Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu took the stage in the final act of the “change” debate within the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). Issuing a call to action on social media, he essentially argued that the Turkish people demand “a change of CHP’s leadership and management in terms of generation and vision.” Imamoğlu’s emphasis on “youth” was a thinly veiled jab at the party’s 74-year-old chairperson, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
That call to action notably came after the leaking of Imamoğlu’s secret Zoom meeting to the media, the leaking of a secret protocol between Kılıçdaroğlu and the far-right politician Ümit Özdağ, the start of a fight between the CHP leadership and CHP-sponsored media outlets, and Kılıçdaroğlu’s ban on any discussion of CHP’s internal affairs in public by its parliamentarians. Simply put, the main opposition party witnessed almost a dozen major disputes and crises over the last 10 days.
Imamoğlu’s call for change
Imamoğlu’s aforementioned social media post suggests that he took yet another step toward challenging Kılıçdaroğlu, deepening the divide between CHP executives and supporters. Still, it remains uncertain whether Imamoğlu will actually step into the ring with the incumbent. He may have criticized Kılıçdaroğlu quite vocally, but he could still claim to have merely and exclusively highlighted the need for change. Let us recall that Istanbul’s mayor had made some statements and taken some steps in an attempt to run for president in May 2023 – which had frustrated the CHP chairperson.
What is already certain, however, is that it has become impossible for the tug-of-war between different generations and competing visions to remain a secret. At the same time, the electorate continues to lose faith in the main opposition party and the election’s aftermath within the CHP and the Good Party (IP) continues to deepen the opposition’s crisis. Last but not least, the crisis that erupted within the main opposition party, which formed the “table for six” and led the opposition on the campaign trail, continues to worsen.
The situation at hand is long past the point where the CHP leadership could stop the crisis from becoming public. Furthermore, the party faces an actual crisis as the tug-of-war fuels hopelessness in the media, across the party organization, and among voters. In other words, the CHP leadership cannot simply reverse its course by not talking about it in public.
Another important point is that Imamoğlu’s slow and gradual advocacy of “change” stops the main opposition party from finding a way out of its current crisis. After all, the endless cycle of controversy and accusations undermine the CHP’s political claims one by one. As all the talk about “journalists cashing paychecks” and “politicians with dirty laundry” alienate voters from the opposition, the opposition has to do nothing but watch and do absolutely nothing.
CHP trapped in internal tumult
With next year’s municipal elections fast approaching, the opposition finds itself trapped in a black hole of internal turmoil. Instead of criticizing the government and presenting the electorate with an alternative vision, the opposition associates itself with fragmentation, ethical problems, interest-driven decisions and corruption.
It is important to remember that the opposition bloc’s fight over the selection of their joint presidential candidate and the power-sharing agreement between seven opposition leaders played a significant role in their eventual defeat. The ongoing leadership battle within the CHP has the same impact. Kılıçdaroğlu and CHP circles would breathe a sigh of relief if Istanbul’s mayor were to announce his candidacy for chairperson right away. If the current crisis lasts until the CHP congress in October, however, neither Kılıçdaroğlu nor Imamoğlu will have enough time to repair the damage before the municipal elections.
It is still possible for Kılıçdaroğlu to remain in charge of the CHP and for Imamoğlu to seek reelection as Istanbul’s mayor. Unlike in 2019, however, the opposition will compete in the 2024 municipal elections without any “psychological edge” or “morale” left. Indeed, the call for “change” won’t have any impact on voters even if a new generation of politicians take the wheel with a new vision.
Meanwhile, it is important for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which continues to tackle issues like inflation and asylum-seekers, to not let the CHP’s crisis cause it to relax. Taking back control of major cities like Istanbul and Ankara would make it easier for the government to bring its vision, the “Century of Türkiye,” to life.
In this article
- Century of Türkiye
- Ekrem İmamoğlu
- Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu
- Türkiye's Good Party (IP)
- Türkiye's Justice and Development Party | AK Party (AK Parti)
- Türkiye's Republican People's Party (CHP)
- Türkiye's Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairperson
- Türkiye's Victory Party (ZP)
- Türkiye's Victory Party (ZP) Chairperson
- Ümit Özdağ