Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu began his address Saturday with a commitment that shows how he might capitalize on the strong support he has received from Turkeys main opposition party:
We are coming to power. We are commencing our long march. We are running for power.
It is interesting to see how the ailing Republican Peoples Party, or CHP, has refreshed itself in only a few days time. During the partys 2008 convention, the CHP was not much different than an already-buried political party with no hope for the future. But todays scene at the convention can be best described as the eruption of the CHP volcano after centuries of idleness. Hungry for power and eager to overthrow the government through next years general elections, the CHP seems to be renewed with the leadership of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
The CHP base sees Kılıçdaroğlu as a member of the party family. Some call him Kemal; to others, he is simply brother. Perhaps its the first time a candidate for prime minister has been called by his first name: Prime Minister Kemal.
With every word Kılıçdaroğlu said, the crowd of CHP delegates grew more enthusiastic; with every slogan the crowd chanted, Kılıçdaroğlu voiced his ambition to take power. While doing this, he based his political rhetoric on the axis of labor and peace, mentioning about the problems of ordinary people and the ways to solve them.
In this sense, he said he would visit Zonguldak, where 28 coal miners were killed in an explosion last week. This city, on the Black Sea coast, is a symbol for social democrats. It was from this city that late Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, a legendary name in the CHP, was elected.
Kılıçdaroğlu, perhaps, is not experienced enough in politics to make strong and influential speeches like former CHP leader Deniz Baykal did. But the points he made at the convention, like the spirit of change and revolution calling to mind the founder of the party, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and other important leaders obviously touched the hearts of the CHP members. Every one of his references to the social democrat concepts of peace, labor, production and workers rights received a positive response from the audience. His sincerity was applauded with the slogan pro-people Kemal, which was last used for Ecevit.
Instead of evaluating the economy in general terms full of statistics, Kılıçdaroğlu prefers to talk in concrete terms: He does not make big statements but tells the stories of the people he sees in every corner of the country.
While criticizing the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKPs, policies, he simply said he would correct them. Perhaps he does not bring a strong economic vision to the table, but he makes concrete promises for development. For example, when asking the prime minister to explain how he spent the funds for the Southeastern Anatolia Project, or GAP, he made it clear that he would introduce a more transparent system if the CHP comes to power.
He also promised to pay more attention to the least developed parts of the country the shantytowns. Revolutionist Kemal, chanted crowds when he said he would not allow a single child to go to bed with an empty stomach.
How we will beat poverty? Well introduce the Family Insurance System, required by the International Labor Organization, he said. That means the AKP will no longer be alone in this field.
The new CHP leader did not speak specifically about the Kurdish issue. But he said he would not allow separation among the people on the basis of ethnic background.
Well solve it together, he said, endorsing the idea of a more brotherly approach to the issue. But he also made a concrete proposal to reduce the 10 percent national threshold in the general elections, a move that would work to the advantage of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP. Its another new step taken by the CHPs new leadership.
Although he highlighted his allegiance to the principle of respect to different religious and ethnic backgrounds, Kılıçdaroğlu focused more on diminishing the roots of poverty. Poverty itself is the major source of separation in society, he said, adding that the party will do more in the countrys Southeast.
On the headscarf issue, Kılıçdaroğlu preferred address its social angle, which again marks a departure from previous administrations. Recalling that thousands of young covered girls have been working illegally in the textile sector in the country, especially in Istanbul, Kılıçdaroğlu vowed to solve the problem through registering the girls in the social security system. Not once did he mention secularism, but he lashed out at the AKP for centering their policies religion and ethnicity.
We will increase democratic standards, Kılıçdaroğlu said.
His image as an honest politician also surfaced during his speech when he referenced the AKPs alleged corruption cases. He specifically mentioned removing parliamentary immunity and passing a bill on political ethics.
Lets have honest people in Parliament. People are facing miserable situations, and dishonest deputies are busy becoming rich. Well destroy this order, he said. That was another moment when delegates were reminded of Ecevit once again.
There is no me. There is us, he said, while calling on all social democrats, within the CHP and outside of it, to support the partys bid for power. That was the moment he got the most applause from the crowd, perhaps the most that has been seen in decades. There is no doubt that the Kılıçdaroğlu wind turned into a storm with Saturdays convention.