The crisis over “change” within the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has been turning into a greater maelstrom. At the heart of that controversy remains the rivalry between the current chairperson, Kemal Kılıçdaroglu, and Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu. The former refuses to step down as the latter has ambitions to pioneer change. That tension heightens the party’s level of activity as well as fuels negotiations ahead of next year’s municipal elections. Meanwhile, the remaining opposition factions criticize Kemal Kılıçdaroglu more and more strongly.
All in all, the main opposition party’s postelection efforts to take stock and seek change have given way to a tug-of-war between Kılıçdaroğlu and Imamoğlu’s supporters, secret meetings, leaked tapes and a fierce debate over ethics.
The most recent crisis erupted over the leaking of Imamoğlu’s secret Zoom meeting with senior CHP officials to the media. Whereas Kılıçdaroğlu merely said that he considered that meeting “ethically unsettling,” the leak marked the beginning of a new chapter in his rivalry with Istanbul’s mayor. There is reason to believe that the main opposition party’s leadership will soon start sacking some of its executives.
The main opposition party’s crisis spilled over to the entire opposition bloc as Ümit Özdağ, the far-right Victory Party’s (ZP) chairperson, unveiled the details of a secret agreement that he signed with Kılıçdaroğlu prior to the presidential election’s second round. Although the CHP spokesperson, Faik Öztrak, promptly rejected the allegation that Kılıçdaroğlu offered Özdağ three Cabinet posts and the intelligence agency, Kılıçdaroğlu himself confirmed those details by describing the deal as “a protocol entrusted in the honor of two people alone.”
That agreement, of which neither party executives nor the opposition bloc’s members (including the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)) were aware, thus became public. That development also raised questions about the nature of Kılıçdaroğlu’s negotiations with the HDP leadership.
Responding to Kılıçdaroğlu’s confession, the Good Party’s (IP) deputy chairperson, Bilge Yılmaz, broadened the ethical debate within the opposition: “To auction off the hopes of this country’s citizens and their institutions behind closed doors, as if they were one’s personal property, and to go behind one’s partners are incompatible with democratic precedents and political ethics.” Yılmaz also apologized for failing to stop Kılıçdaroğlu from running for president and criticized the opposition’s culture of “lynchings,” intrigue-plagued methods and CHP’s decision to reduce its election campaign to populism.
The “ethics” debate within CHP and allegations that some people paid the IP to secure their nominations suggest that the two major opposition parties experience a general crisis of “ethics.” Let us recall that the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), the Democratic Party (DP), the Felicity Party (SP) and the Future Party (GP) claimed 38 parliamentary seats by having their candidates run on the CHP ticket – which, some said, was “unethical.” Obviously, the opposition’s current crisis cannot be viewed as a question of ethics alone. It is about comprehensive change from stakeholders to policies and vision.
The nature of the power struggle within CHP also influences the concepts invoked by various parties. Specifically, Imamoğlu’s supporters call for change as Kılıçdaroğlu advocates renewal. It is no secret that those in power would favor “renewal” over “change” – which is the opposition’s discourse.
Kılıçdaroğlu refuses to admit that the electoral alliance, which he personally crafted, suffered a defeat. He merely concedes that the opposition bloc “failed to win” because they could not reach voters in “remote villages and towns.” In other words, the CHP chairperson does not agree that there were problems with his presidential bid or his party’s policies and ideology. Accordingly, he pledges to “renew” the CHP’s bylaws and cadres, and reiterates his commitment to the current mix of right-leaning and left-leaning policies. Despite standing by the CHP’s six arrows, Kemalism and social democracy, Kılıçdaroğlu is determined to maximize the flexibility of his party’s discourse – to the extent that it can make far-right arguments.
The CHP chairperson holds the upper hand because he controls the majority of party delegates. Accordingly, he can get reelected comfortably and handpick mayoral candidates. Yet, the leaked Zoom meeting suggests that Kılıçdaroğlu must sack a large number of CHP executives. By contrast, Imamoğlu needs to step into the arena.
The power struggle within the main opposition party deepens the opposition bloc’s ongoing crisis. Since the details of Kılıçdaroğlu’s Faustian bargain with Özdağ have been revealed to the general public, the “ethics” debate will cast a shadow on any attempt by the opposition parties to form an alliance or partnership ahead of next year’s municipal elections. That is extremely useful political ammunition that the opposition just handed over to the ruling People’s Alliance.
In this article
- Bilge Yılmaz
- Ekrem İmamoğlu
- Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu
- Table for Six | Turkish Opposition Alliance
- Turkish Opposition
- Türkiye's Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA)
- Türkiye's Democratic Party (DP)
- Türkiye's Felicity Party (SP)
- Türkiye's Future Party (GP)
- Türkiye's Good Party (IP)
- Türkiye's Republican People's Party (CHP)
- Türkiye's Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairperson
- Ümit Özdağ