Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş (L) and Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu make statements in Ankara, Türkiye, May 14, 2023. (AP Photo)

Solving CHP puzzle in new era: Özel, Imamoğlu, Yavaş all emboldened

All political parties need to interpret the outcome of the March 31 municipal elections accurately.

All political parties need to interpret the outcome of the March 31 municipal elections accurately.

The Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) initial analyses suggest that the movement has done that. Yet the crucial point relates to the concrete steps to be taken toward recovery and renewal as well as their timing and how they will be communicated. Obviously, the AK Party needs to act fast to avoid conflicts and fragmentation within its organization and popular base. At the same time, delaying change would entail the risk of the electorate’s reaction taking hold.

As I pointed out in my previous column, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political experience and genius give the AK Party a massive advantage when it comes to creating that synthesis in a calm and collected manner. For the next four years, the party will be compelled to engage in politics without forgetting that it did not rank first in the 2024 municipal elections.

It goes without saying that the Republican People’s Party (CHP) needs to analyze its achievement better than any other movement. Keeping in mind that CHP-affiliated mayors now govern provinces accounting for 73.5% of the national income, their performance will make a mark on the 2028 elections.

Likewise, the brand of politics, in which the CHP will engage as the top political party on the local level, will be quite important. Initial statements by the CHP chairperson and Istanbul’s mayor suggested that the movement remains keenly aware of the fact that it must not let its victory in the municipal election lead to sluggishness. Chairperson Özgür Özel’s promise that “this outcome won’t make us arrogant” was a case in point. Another example was Ekrem Imamoğlu calling for “continued change” within the CHP.

It is not possible to argue, however, that the CHP’s success on March 31 has resolved its crises regarding ideology, identity and even the party leadership that had erupted in May 2023.

‘Türkiye Alliance’: Overestimating unity?

Moreover, the CHP chairperson appears to read too much into the “Türkiye Alliance” based on his address on election night: “The Türkiye Alliance, which built a great unity with Türkiye’s democrats as opposed to political parties, has won.”

Did the Republicans really form a grassroots alliance despite the relevant political parties?

It is quite obvious that the Good Party (IP), which decided to contest the election alone, could not stop some of its supporters from voting for CHP-affiliated candidates. What we do not know, however, is whether the same thing would happen in a general election.

Did some pro-PKK Green Left Party (YSP), informally known as the Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party), a successor of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), supporters strategizing and voting for CHP-affiliated candidates in Istanbul and some other provinces necessarily amount to a grassroots alliance? I would argue that the CHP should not assume that it successfully formed a grassroots alliance.

The Türkiye Alliance, which CHP members describe as a “grassroots-level unity of social democrats, liberals, conservatives, Kurds and nationalists” will face serious challenges over the next months and years. Indeed, most challenges will come from the YSP as it seeks to carve out ideological and political space for itself.

The CHP is compelled to clarify its ambiguous and currently empty rhetoric, which replaced the “table for six” alliance, and keep appealing to Kurdish nationalists, Turkish nationalists and leftists simultaneously. If the AK Party manages to reconnect with disgruntled conservatives, it will not be enough for the CHP to use some religious symbols.

The CHP may be undergoing a learning process and change. Yet will it be able to keep its hardliners, who will make additional demands based on their party’s success, under control?

Debating CHP’s local governance brand

One of the points that the CHP chairperson made – with which I disagree – was that the voters had “warmed up to the CHP’s pro-people brand of local government.” After all, CHP-affiliated mayors seem to lack experience in effective public service, notwithstanding some social municipalism and public relations methods that they learned from the AK Party. Indeed, the electorate focused on economic challenges, rather than the performance of CHP-controlled municipalities, on election day.

The difficult question to answer is as follows: What kind of party will the CHP become as Özel, Imamoğlu and Mansur Yavaş become more powerful simultaneously? The mayors of Istanbul and Ankara bring about a new kind of CHP.

Will the CHP’s ideological base and organization view that the CHP as the true CHP? And will the CHP be able to answer such questions while shouldering the burden of the YSP’s potentially ambitious political agenda?

[Daily Sabah, April 8, 2024]

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