ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Süheyl Batum grew up amid center-right politics. DHA photo
The son of a parliamentary deputy from the Democrat Party, or DP, Süheyl Batum was expected to become a leader of the center-right party despite spending his career in academia rather than politics. Instead, he became secretary-general of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, where he is fighting for a social-democrat initiative under CHP chief Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s leadership.
Though he grew up amid center-right politics, Batum, a constitutional law professor, was ill-inclined toward a political career, but had a change of heart when the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, came to power. Believing the ruling party to be a dangerous force, he dismissed the DP’s anointing of him as a “leader of the future” and threw his hat in with the CHP when Kılıçdaroğlu took over the party’s top post. Batum was selected to the party assembly and rose to hold the position of secretary-general and CHP spokesman.
The question many have asked about him is “Why politics and why the CHP?” In response, Batum told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review: “Since the 2000s, I’ve realized Turkey has been forced to adopt a different position that was not progressive democracy. In this system, political parties such as the AKP were inclining toward dictatorship. And I began to think these things could be corrected only if I got into politics.”
Asked to clarify if concerns about the ruling party pushed him into politics, Batum said yes. “Although some say it’s progressive democracy, I see that the regime is gradually transforming into an authoritarian and totalitarian one,” he said. Although he believes this must be addressed through politics, he said politics are also troublesome because “political leaders chose their men to obey.” Still, his worries about the direction the country was heading led him to answer Kılıçdaroğlu’s call.
Since his father, Sadık Batum, had been elected as a parliamentary deputy from the DP and a senator from the Justice Party, or AP, Batum had often been mentioned as a possible name to head the DP. During a joint visit last year to striking Tekel workers, DP Chairman Hüsamettin Cindoruk introduced Batum as the “leader of the future,” making his eventual decision to join the CHP a surprise to many observers.
“My wife, children, relatives and family friends have known for years that I am close to the CHP,” Batum said. “On the other hand, the DP has invited me so many times. But I’ve never felt close to the DP or voted for them. If I had gone into the DP, my children would not vote for me.”
“Batum’s name was mentioned for the integration of center-right. He was invited to the CHP and helped Kılıçdaroğlu with his leftist-nationalist nature,” Şenol Ateş, daily Sabah’s CHP correspondent, told the Daily News. “Batum was appointed as secretary-general of the party out of necessity. I have my reservations about how the CHP delegates will act toward Batum; the question of how much Batum represents the CHP will be answered in this [weekend’s] general convention.”
Daily Hürriyet columnist Şükrü Küçükşahin told the Daily News that Kılıçdaroğlu chose Batum in order to give a message to a broader segment of the electorate. “Batum’s name was always mentioned together with the center-right leadership. Therefore, he is a name that the center-right might feel close to,” Küçükşahin said. “As Kılıçdaroğlu included Batum in the party assembly, I believe he acted in that direction too. But the CHP has failed to build a bridge to the center-right.”
Batum spent his early years attending Galatasaray High School in Istanbul and then Sorbonne University in Paris. He took his first step into the world of academia in 1980 with an assistantship at the Constitutional Law Department of Istanbul University. Eventually tenured as a professor at Galatasaray University’s Faculty of Law, Batum taught constitutional law at Istanbul, Galatasaray, Bilgi, Marmara and Bahçeşehir universities. He was also elected the president of Bahçeşehir University and the dean of its Communications Faculty.
Known for his leftist-nationalist leanings and his political stance against the AKP during this period, Batum stood behind Sabih Kanadoğlu, the former chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals who introduced the idea of seeking a “quorum 367” to vote on a president during the presidential election crisis in 2007.
Batum’s support for the Republic rallies, objections to the AKP’s judicial reform and constitutional regulations and criticisms of illegal practices during the Ergenekon criminal gang case have made him a sought-after figure on TV news programs and debates, on which he has demonstrated a smooth rhetorical style and strong vision. He has also written articles for daily newspapers Cumhuriyet and Vatan.
Controversial first appearance
In his first appearing as the new CHP secretary-general, Batum was protested at the Political Sciences Faculty at Ankara University. When students shouted at him, he called them “fascists” and was criticized for that. In the same meeting, students threw eggs at Parliamentary Constitution Commission Head Burhan Kuzu, a fellow constitutional law professor who shared an office with Batum at Istanbul University for more than a decade.
Before getting into politics, Batum was mostly criticized for being “leftist-nationalist and pro-Ergenekon,” a reference to the ongoing case against an alleged ultranationalist gang that has been accused of planning to topple the government by staging a coup, initially by spreading chaos and mayhem.
“Everyone is labeled in Turkey. So you don’t see facts but dreams. I was being called pro-Ergenekon just for standing up against injustice,” Batum said. “I went to the court, filed a suit and I won. All are a part of the game that has been played in Turkey. People are forced to see the pro-shariah [side] as ‘liberal’ just as I was forced to be seen as a ‘pro-Ergenekon.’”
“The CHP claims to be in a transformation process, but Batum’s recent actions and remarks are not in line with the transformation process that Kılıçdaroğlu has promised,” said Metin Altınok of daily Taraf. “Batum is not a representative of change. He was one of the ideologists of the April 28 military e-memorandum and the Republic rallies. Batum represents status quo in this country. And I think this is a contradiction.”
Responding to criticisms about his being a “leftist-nationalist,” Batum said leftist-nationalism and racist-nationalism are two different concepts. “I am a leftist-nationalist. I am a man who defends independence,” he said. “But being leftist-nationalist shouldn’t be read as racist or ultra-rightist