Hard, harder, hardest: The harsh reality of CHP in Turkey


The leader of the main opposition party of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal KılıçdaroÄŸlu, is fueling his efforts to unite the opposition before the 2023 elections with a negative election campaign. His kind of negative politics – based on lies, intimidation and grave accusations – seeks to cover up the large gaps in the political goals and ideology of the fragmented opposition.

KılıçdaroÄŸlu’s call for a return to parliamentarism and a “transition period” is shockingly ambiguous and ultimately meaningless. Therefore, after 2023, the opposition cannot be a viable alternative to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) – unless it presents a shared vision for Turkey‘s future.

The lack of clarity on the CHP proposals clearly undermines public confidence. But Kılıçdaroğlu, its chairman, deliberately relies on indeterminacy. Talking about concrete goals and ideas would put the provisional unit of the opposition under further pressure. The opposition leaders also could not really agree on a counter-terrorism strategy or a foreign policy. From the point of view of the CHP chairman, however, the greatest individual risk is that an open debate threatens to stir up a showdown in his own party.

Ironic criticism

Ironically, Zülfü Livaneli, a left-wing intellectual, started the struggle that KılıçdaroÄŸlu was determined to avoid. In a recent interview he criticized the Turkish left, claiming that neither the CHP, the Democratic Left Party (DSP) nor the Social Democratic People’s Party (SHP) are really left. Livaneli claimed that Ismet Inönü, Bülent Ecevit and Deniz Baykal – the former leaders of the CHP – had been entrusted with the task of stopping class politics. “Was Baykal a leftist? No way, “said Livaneli.” Baykal is a typical Sunni right-wing politician. He could easily have become part of the True Path Party (DYP), the Motherland Party (ANAP) or the Democratic Party (DP) – and be more successful. Baykal doesn’t like Kurds, Alevis or the oppressed. “

Former chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deniz Baykal addresses deputies during a debate in the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, April 19, 2010. (Reuters Photo)

Livaneli criticized Baykal, the former CHP chairman, not only for activating the current President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan in 2002. He actually sees these people as deliberate obstacles to the progress of left-wing politics in Turkey. As such, the poet describes them as pro-state and nationalistic. Between the lines he called for a new class-based policy designed to bring the Turkish and Kurdish left together.

Livaneli is a positivist intellectual who describes Turkish modernization as a struggle between reactionaries and the Enlightenment. That he still subscribes to this primitive notion of modernization is his decision – or his problem.

What about Kılıçdaroğlu?

However, it is difficult to understand why Livaneli, who urged the CHP to face its past, avoided practically any criticism of current party leader KılıçdaroÄŸlu. In fact, many leftists accuse KılıçdaroÄŸlu of bringing too many right-wing politicians into the party, thereby distancing the movement from the left. In addition, the CHP chairman has not even circulated a social democratic idea to replace Baykal’s initiative of the Anatolian Left.

The leader of the Republican People's Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, speaks to his MPs on November 26, 2019 in the parliament in Ankara, Turkey.  (AP Photo)

The leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal KılıçdaroÄŸlu, speaks to his MPs on November 26, 2019 in the parliament in Ankara, Turkey. (AP Photo)

One cannot help but think that Klıçdaroğlu was spared because he is not a “typical Sunni” like his predecessor. Or maybe because the CHP chair happens to be the only person who could help Livaneli be considered as a presidential candidate?

In any case, a confrontation with Baykal would inevitably spark a much larger struggle within the largest opposition party. Such a confrontation could lead to an attempt to settle the bill with KılıçdaroÄŸlu, who has lost every election for the past 11 years, adopted a Gülenist discourse, and moved his party closer to the Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) – currently due to its closure links to the terrorist organization PKK are facing closure.

Still, Livaneli’s decision to launch a public debate on the revolutionary left was very useful. It might be fun to talk about the various tensions and disagreements between Kemalism and Turkish left, Turkish left and Kurdish nationalism, and Turkish nationalists (within the CHP and the Good Party (IP)) and left revolutionaries.


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