Illustration by Erhan Yalvaç shows Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu (L) and the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Chairperson Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu wearing the costumes of Karagöz and Hacivat, the lead characters of the traditional Turkish shadow play.

CHP’s sad situation and Kurdish voters

The main opposition's possible ambitious policy proposal on the Kurdish question would mean direct disunity among the opposition bloc's parties

A new war of words has kicked off in Turkey’s political arena. Following the debate over seating arrangements at a meeting of opposition leaders, the game of thrones inside the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has become more obvious. Istanbul’s mayor, Ekrem Imamoğlu, not only failed to deal with snowfall last week, he also made headlines for going out for an expensive dinner with a foreign ambassador, which cost approximately $3,700 (around TL 48,000). Shortly afterward, the party’s youth branch revealed that their chairperson, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, had recently broadcast a video from a luxurious hotel room with a nightly rate of $7,700.

That those two politicians, who talk about “being genuine” more than anyone, ended up in this situation is surely a twist of political fate. Yet, it also shows how fiercely the opposition’s heavyweights will compete against each other over an endorsement for the 2023 presidential race. Right now, many people in the main opposition party are contemplating who would be most likely to leak information to the media in order to hurt their opponent.

Having failed to present a concrete plan to the people and, instead, sticking to criticizing the government alone, the opposition parties seem unlikely to be able to overcome the hurdle of polarization over individuals and other sorts of disputes. The way out of this mess is to devise policy. Although inflation remains the top issue in politics today, it is no secret that key groups – such as young voters, Kurds, religious conservatives and nationalists – will determine the winner of the next election. It is also obvious that the 2023 election will take place amid plenty of polarization. The discord between secular and religious citizens, together with the Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) fate and the war on terror, will ostensibly be the focal points of polarization. Due to the ongoing normalization process, foreign policy is unlikely to be a source of polarization – exceptions notwithstanding.

The fate of the HDP makes the Kurdish question an inavoidable subject on the campaign trail. Connecting with Kurdish voters will be a priority for the ruling party and the opposition. What matters more, however, is on what basis and with which words politicians will discuss the Kurdish question. At this point, there is no reason to expect an ambitious policy proposal. Instead, we should be ready for a discursive competition.

Glimpse into opposition

Let us first take a look at the opposition: The main opposition party, which was supposed to unveil a report on the Kurds a while back, has still published nothing. Yet even Kılıçdaroğlu resorting to the cliche – that “the road to democracy goes through Diyarbakır” – upset the Good Party (IP): “That emphasis on Diyarbakır could amount to a compliment paid to the HDP, which thinks that (we have) no choice but to work with (them) under the presidential system. How many votes would the CHP actually receive from the Nation Alliance if we weren’t around?” The people remember HDP officials argued that the IP “wouldn’t have been in Parliament had it not been for us.” At the same time, the IP was compelled to say repeatedly that the HDP stood “with the PKK (terrorist organization).”

One thing is clear: Where the HDP stands on counterterrorism policy remains a genuine point of disagreement between the CHP and the IP. That disagreement presents no opportunity to the main opposition party, except to talk about “making amends.” The HDP, in turn, will surely make additional demands, as it wants to be part of the governing coalition after 2023. Under those circumstances, the CHP cannot commit to anything more than the discourse of making amends – which won’t give the main opposition party an advantage over the ruling party. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has a strong track record of “making amends” with the Kurds and addressing their identity-related demands. Having implemented the European Union reforms and launched two distinct peace processes, it has a strong case against the HDP line.

Turkey’s government has met all the Kurdish community’s expectations, except the most extreme demands of Kurdish nationalists. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s discourse, which underlines the importance of combating terrorism and, simultaneously, reaches out to Kurdish voters and stresses that the HDP harms the Kurdish community, could easily take down the opposition’s ambiguous talk about “making amends.” If the opposition comes up with an ambitious policy proposal regarding the Kurdish question, in turn, it would be impossible for the alliance of the 6+1 parties to stay together.

As we inch closer toward the 2023 election, it would make the most sense to expect the Kurdish question to gain importance at the rhetorical level.

[Daily Sabah, February 2, 2022]

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