"Within the context of party politics, Republican People's Party (CHP) Chair Özgür Özel follows in his predecessor Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s footsteps and reaches out to the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the Good Party (IP) before others because those two parties remain the most important counterparts." (Illustration by Erhan Yalvaç)

Akşener’s leadership test, Özel’s style and Kemalism

Over the past few months, the Republican People's Party (CHP) has been working toward convincing the Good Party (IP) to join forces ahead of next year's municipal elections. Local leaders who happen to be part of the municipal ecosystem in Istanbul and Ankara support some type of collaboration.

Over the past few months, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) has been working toward convincing the Good Party (IP) to join forces ahead of next year’s municipal elections. Local leaders who happen to be part of the municipal ecosystem in Istanbul and Ankara support some type of collaboration.

It was never really a secret that Ekrem Imamoğlu and Mansur Yavaş, the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara respectively, adopted a campaign strategy that would keep all members of the Nation Alliance, including the Felicity Party (SP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), in the fold.

The reality demonstrated by the most recent resignations from the IP seems to suggest that it does not have the power to bring chairperson Meral Akşener back to the metaphorical table once again, as she rejected the collaboration proposal from the CHP.

Another important point is that Akşener, who faces carrots and sticks, could ultimately fail this test of leadership. In other words, what one says won’t have a lot of impact if people believe that one changes their mind constantly.

Many would wonder whether Akşener’s pledge not to join any alliances was just related to Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu serving as CHP chairperson. Let us recall that Kılıçdaroğlu proved capable of making the same concessions, which his successor Özgür Özel seems willing to make today, ahead of the May 2023 elections.

The newly elected main opposition leader makes an attempt to join forces or form an alliance with opposition parties that does not fall short of his predecessor’s strategy. Indeed, the political future of Istanbul’s mayor, too, hinges on that plan. Within the context of party politics, Özel follows in Kılıçdaroğlu’s footsteps and reaches out to the HDP and the IP before others because those two parties remain the most important counterparts. No wonder he promotes Kurdish identity politics with reference to the appointment of independent trustees as mayors.

Let’s see where the remaining members of the “table for six” – SP, Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), the Democratic Party (DP) and the Future Party (GP) – shall be included in this renewed partnership attempt. Admittedly, the CHP leadership’s pledge to embrace the left won’t be particularly impressive for those movements. To win them over, Özgür Özel would have to go back to his predecessor’s “concession-prone” and “negotiating” policy. Failure to take that step would mean excluding conservative parties to create a narrower cooperation framework.

At the same time, the CHP’s newly elected chairperson engages in Alevi identity politics so as not to alienate those CHP voters who supported Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in the past. There is a chance that his most recent statements relate to a bigger plan to replace the Alevi mayors of some districts in Istanbul per Ekrem Imamoğlu’s demands.

Özel’s ambiguous vision of Kemalism

Again, Özel talks about Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the republic’s founder, much more than his predecessor in an attempt to keep the CHP circles in line. Indeed, he describes his vision as making sure that Atatürk’s party does not lose an election ever again. It goes without saying that the kind of politics that makes frequent references to Türkiye’s founder, has certain advantages. It is important to note, however, that Özel simultaneously accuses Kılıçdaroğlu and other former chairs of having failed “Atatürk’s party” and other parties of competing against Atatürk’s party.

Moreover, the CHP chairperson keeps his vision of Kemalism ambiguous – which encourages critics to accuse him of straying from the founder’s principles. In other words, some would be inclined to ask him whether Atatürk’s party would (and should) take certain controversial steps.

It remains unclear how the CHP, which “opens up to the right with leftist policies” and engages in Kurdish and Alevi identity politics, interprets Kemalism. It has no coherent discourse either. Obviously, the movement does not worry about clarifying the contemporary meaning of the left nor Kemalism.

Indeed, confining Kemalism within the symbolical domain and keeping its content ambiguous could be a tactical move. After all, the CHP chairperson’s rhetoric highlights ideology and identity. That choice might benefit the CHP and HDP, but it hurts the interests of the IP and other members of what was formerly known as the “table for six.”

[Daily Sabah, December 05, 2023]

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