By Ihsan Bal
That the CHP (Republican People’s Party), Turkey’s main opposition party, takes its share of responsibility regarding the chronic problems of the country, which are of vital importance, and comes up with projects to deal with them is of serious significance in several ways. First and foremost in this regard is undoubtedly having an outlook which would solve the problems of the country, not with a tutelary approach but one in which politics are based on contact with the people.
When one looks into the past and examines the CHP during the time of its previous leader, Deniz Baykal, one sees that the only way this deeply-established party engaged in politics was by continually going to the Constitutional Court and seeking support from the armed forces. The CHP can be said to have reached a very different point since Baykal’s time. The party has undoubtedly undergone a change, but it is not as easy as might be thought for the CHP to digest such a great change. The CHP is still trying to persist in its old ways and it is abundantly clear that it will protest strongly against the reform projects and fresh visions of the innovators in its ranks, even at their efforts to alter the paradigm. But one of the main realities which should be borne in mind and which those who are putting up this resistance should notice is that enough time has now gone by for things to have changed completely. Ideas of government based on bureaucratic tutelage are no longer acceptable today.
The idea used to be prevalent in “old Turkey” that the CHP with around 20% of the vote was more influential than right-wing political movements with around 40% of the vote. This perception of the CHP rested on the assumption that the specific importance of a style of politics linked to bureaucratic tutelage would be the main determinant in the equation of political power. However, today this argument seems no more than a meaningless suggestion.
That is why those striving to create a new CHP must not give up on their project when they encounter resistance from supporters of the status quo. The present CHP leadership is having to endure reversals and gives the impression of being frequently trapped by conflicts of ideas inside the party, but the approach that would be most correct for it is to continue on its way without faltering. It is entirely reasonable politically for the CHP to envisage enlarging the political debate by making practical political proposals for solutions and thus addressing a wider bloc of the electorate.
If the CHP were to encompass a wider following and possess vision, if it were to promise things to the voters in line with the expectations of Turkey and present itself as a social democratic address with its new projects, this might create a new sense of political excitement in Turkey.
The fact that the CHP has taken initiatives on the problem of terrorism with an extremely important political proposal has to be regarded as a major advance for the party, and it should not retreat in the face of dismissive criticism. For it to accept a gigantic problem of this kind into its agenda and convey it to the ruling party may not initially score many points for the CHP, but as the process unfolds, it could make a substantial contribution to revising social attitudes toward the CHP.
In Turkey, the most sensitive aspects of the struggle with terrorism above all are to do with problems of style and language. The favorable response in the country to the language used after the Kılıçdaroğlu-Erdoğan meeting is the surest sign of how much we are in need of what seem like simple courtesy and consensus in politics. The meeting of leaders who hurl fiery salvos at each other each Tuesday in their parliamentary group meetings made everyone feel more secure and at ease about prospects for a solution.
Fatih Altayli, a senior Turkish journalist and commentator, has even recently asked whether there might have been a different outcome in 1980 if Süleyman Demirel and Bulent Ecevit, the two feuding political leaders at the time, had been able to arrange to meet together. “If instead of the leading figures in both parties getting together at Zincirbozan [the camp where they were interned by the military] after the coup and then chatting to each other, suppose that Demirel and Ecevit had been able to meet before the coup and talked like men about the country’s problems. Would the September 12 coup still have happened?” Who knows, perhaps everything would have been very different.
Today, we have on one hand a CHP which is in the process of changing while on the other there are fundamental problems of the country which persist even though what is at issue is the country’s transformation. So the scope of political debate needs to be enlarged and we need to patiently insist on consensus-building for solutions. Because of this, the new CHP should hold out against its critics.
Head of USAK Science Committee