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Change' or discerning voter anger What's the real deal in

'Change' or discerning voter anger: What's the real deal in CHP?

Since last month’s elections, the Turkish people have been talking about “change” within the main opposition party. The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) supporters and Istanbul’s mayor, Ekrem Imamoğlu, started that debate.

Since last month’s elections, the Turkish people have been talking about “change” within the main opposition party. The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) supporters and Istanbul’s mayor, Ekrem Imamoğlu, started that debate. All of a sudden, everyone in the CHP circles became a fan of Albert Einstein. They keep reminding each other of the late physicist’s famous words: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Others, who believe that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, CHP chair and presidential candidate of the opposition coalition, receiving 48% was not enough, remain on the verge of "lynching" him. To make matters worse, those folks direct the CHP base’s deep frustration and anger at their chairperson. They keep saying they “need to take stock” – primarily replacing the party’s leader. They do not seem to care that Kılıçdaroğlu oversaw more comprehensive change than any other CHP chairperson. In this sense, the advocates of “Türkiye without opposition” have nothing to say about change vis-à-vis ideology, identity and policy. Likewise, anyone accusing Kılıçdaroğlu of lacking a "grand narrative" does not have a coherent story with the potential to attract the majority of Turkish voters.

Is 'factory reset' the key?

For the sake of Türkiye’s democracy, the opposition does need to reflect on what happened. After all, their most recent defeat cannot be reduced to a simple loss that will last just five years. The CHP has lost 16 elections and will have been in the opposition for 26 years. Either way, it suffered a heavy defeat. Yet the question that matters most remains unanswered: In what direction should the CHP change? Ambiguous statements like “the CHP must demonstrate its unique identity and power” are not enough. Other questions also come to mind, such as: Could anyone argue that the main opposition party would receive more votes if it were to restore its "factory settings" with ancient Kemalist and ultra-secularist policies? Didn’t Kılıçdaroğlu enable his party to form the "table for six" and a "grand coalition" by taking steps for which he has been accused of dragging the party to the right? Wouldn’t embracing leftist and ultra-secularist policies at the expense of “making amends” undermine the CHP’s alliance with the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), the Felicity Party (SP), the Future Party (GP) and the Democratic Party (DP)? Wasn’t the Turkish nationalist discourse the CHP adopted ahead of the presidential election’s second round likely to alienate the pro-PKK Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)? Or would it make sense not to change at all? Should the main opposition party create an ambiguous and populist framework devoid of content – as Imamoğlu wants?

Lack of clear direction

It is possible to ask many more questions. All of them highlight the CHP’s lack of a clear direction. Another critical point is that the electorate will vote in the March 2024 local elections based on the mayors’ performance – a highly problematic issue for the movement. If the opposition believes itself capable of shifting attention to ideology, it is important to recall that the ruling alliance proved more capable on the campaign trail. The CHP leadership must analyze its base’s anger in a multidimensional manner. Some pro-opposition commentators seek to mobilize their voters anew by accusing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) of transforming Türkiye into a “political religionist state” and the situation will worsen if the opposition were to lose the municipal elections. They also claim that the "Century of Türkiye" might not refer to the republic’s continuation. That is not difficult to do. I posit, however, that the main opposition party’s "changing pains" are mainly rooted in the CHP’s core not embracing Kılıçdaroğlu’s plan to transform the movement. Instead, they merely tolerate it. If a new party leader is elected, they won’t have an easy job. Moreover, there is a significant difference between the CHP’s core voters and various groups that endorsed the party as part of the "alliance" in terms of worldview and identity. The situation is completely chaotic because of the election loss. Kılıçdaroğlu undermined his original argument – partnership albeit fragmented – with extremely nationalistic messages. The main opposition party finds itself in a maelstrom of change without a framework or direction. Let me just say that Erdoğan’s remarks won’t help the CHP dig itself out of that hole. [Daily Sabah, June 21 2023]