The Republican People’s Party (CHP) is losing its allies in its traditional bureaucratic opposition policies and has to adapt itself to democratic opposition if it wants to remain an actor in Turkish politics, observers have said
The CHP has been losing ground for some time now in terms of the support and cooperation it used to enjoy from the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), the judiciary and academia. The loss is reflected in the CHP’s aggressive mood as it targets its traditional allies.
CHP parliamentary group deputy chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu attacked the General Staff for not expelling anti-secularist officers, saying there has to be at least some given the large size of the Turkish Armed Forces. Kılıçdaroğlu claimed on Tuesday that the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) failed to expel any officer because of the warm relations between the army and the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AK Party). He reiterated his position yesterday during a press conference by saying that an alleged armored vehicle given to the service of outgoing Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt was part of the explanation.
Analysts said that Kılıçdaroğlu's press conference must have been approved by CHP leader Deniz Baykal and that his declaration can be perceived as official CHP policy. Kılıçdaroğlu also accused the Constitutional Court of being responsible for the deaths of babies at a hospital in Ankara. He claimed that as the top court did not respond positively to a CHP motion to cancel a bylaw the government passed about the appointment of hospital supervisors and deputy supervisors, it should be held responsible for the bad management of this particular hospital, among others, that gave way to the deaths of infants. Kılıçdaroğlu commented yesterday about the appointment of university rectors and claimed that this was a continuation of the AK Party's efforts to fill bureaucratic posts with its protégés.
Professor Mümtaz'er Türköne, a political scientist and columnist, said the CHP's readiness to criticize the army and its traditional bureaucratic allies is a direct result of the cleansing of Ergenekon organization-related "rotten eggs" from the ranks of the army and other bureaucratic organs. Ergenekon is a crime network that had planned to overthrow the government. "The CHP is not an ally of the entire army apparatus but of a part of it that shared the mentality of the Ergenekon organization. The party was on good terms with these people within the army who favored military intervention in politics. Now that these people are no longer influential, the CHP is losing its institutional connections with the army," Türköne told Today's Zaman.
Constitutional law expert Professor Levent Köker agrees with Professor Türköne in that the alliance between the CHP and the army is not institutional. "There may be people in the army that help the CHP out and I am sure there are people in the CHP that do not support the existing style of politics the party has adopted," he told Today's Zaman.
Addressing a polemic that the CHP had established ties with the General Staff after a cross-border operation into northern Iraq, Professor Türköne claims that the CHP used to regard itself as "the government, but in opposition" and losing the elements that granted it this position made the party more and more oppressive. "The CHP's problem is that it does not have a strategy on how to become Turkey's governing party. There is a different kind of governmental structure within the system, and the CHP had always been a "government in opposition." Now that it is losing this position, it cannot escape an internal crisis over the ideological position and the leadership of the party," Türköne said. According to Türköne, the only option for the CHP to reinvigorate itself is to adopt a strategy of democratic opposition instead of a bureaucratic one. "Politics does not like a power vacuum. If the CHP cannot change its leader, reform its traditional statist policies and formulate a new policy that will mobilize the people, its place will be filled by another political party," he said.
Speaking to Today's Zaman, Professor Baskın Oran, a left-wing political scientist, preferred to summarize the CHP's condition in one sentence and suggested that the CHP should be recreated from the very beginning.
Professor İhsan Dağı, a political scientist from the prestigious Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ), thinks that the alliance between the CHP and bureaucratic institutions are on secularism, and since politics usurping secularism is no longer acceptable, this alliance is also crumbling. According to him, the CHP uses classical tactics of narrowing the zone of politics of the AK Party through the reservations of the army, the judiciary and academia on secularism. "But this didn't work. It didn't work on April 27 [the day on which an e-memorandum was issued by the army], and it didn't work with the Constitutional Court. This tactic does not narrow the grassroots support of the AK Party. On the contrary, the CHP is tightening its own zone of politics. It should find a way to return to legitimate politics," he told Today's Zaman. According to Dağı, the CHP has no chance of standing against a left-wing party formulating its opposition on issues other than secularism. "The bureaucratic opposition is already dead in this country; the CHP should find the way to democratic opposition," Dağı said.
Veteran diplomat and politician İnal Batu, who left the CHP last year, claimed that the CHP's apparent clash with the bureaucratic organs is a cosmetic move formulated by the party's leadership to undo the popular perception of the party as the "party of the state, the party of the army and a coup provocateur." "This tactic is based only on a vote-hunting mentality and won't work. It is not convincing at all," he told Today's Zaman.
According to Batu, the Constitutional Court's decision to not close the AK Party was a serious blow to the CHP, which had based all its plans on the assumption that the top court would close it. "Once the AK Party was not closed, they started to look for alternative ways. This is not new, and this is not only true for the CHP. On the occasion of the cross-border operation, the CHP did the same in order to appeal to the people. When the Nationalist Movement Party [MHP] voted in favor of constitutional amendments [to lift a long-standing ban on wearing headscarves at universities], some retired army officers gathered in front of the MHP headquarters to protest the party. The response they got was a deliberate one to show to the public that the MHP was distancing itself from the army," Batu explained. The officers he mentioned were harassed by some MHP members, and the MHP leadership criticized the officers instead of apologizing for the incident.
Batu also thinks that the only way out for the CHP is to become truly social democrat. "This is a party that claims to be social democrat. They have to be democratic first, and democracy starts from intra-party democracy. With this leadership, the CHP can never be democratic," he said. According to him, the power vacuum in the democratic left is a window of opportunity for the CHP since the country needs a social democrat party to serve as a balance to conservative parties. "But I am not optimistic that the CHP will fill this gap," he said.
According to Professor Köker, the aggressive policy adopted by the CHP is even more vulgar and utilitarian than Batu thinks. According to him, the CHP is not looking for a new zone of politics because "it is not engaging in politics at all." Köker thinks that the only logic after the CHP's criticism of the bureaucratic organs is to raise tension. "The CHP is nurtured by tension. It deliberately tries to increase tension in the country. I don't think that they are planning to challenge the army forever. Before the cross-border operation, the CHP and the MHP adopted this policy of controlled tension, and when the operation was cut short, in their view, they took the second step to raise tension by criticizing the army. I assume the party will continue to look for pretexts to keep tension at a certain level," he told