Role reversal: Changing dynamics of CHP and Good Party

A series of meetings between the leaders of Türkiye’s major political parties steered the national conversation in recent weeks, creating an opportunity to breathe new life into Turkish politics. Such reactivation would entail a heated debate on a broad range of issues related to Türkiye’s present condition and future.

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Role reversal Changing dynamics of CHP and Good Party
CHP Chair Özel's line challenges new IP's third-way agenda

CHP Chair Özel's line challenges new IP's third-way agenda

The Good Party (IP) held an emergency congress on Sunday to replace its chairperson, Meral Akşener, with Müsavat Dervişoğlu.

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The municipal election campaign of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has been riddled with crises, and I am not talking about their various statements that have become the subject of controversy. For example, this is not about the CHP chairperson’s remarks about Turkish citizens who paid for their exemption from military service or Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu’s comments on housewives.

With the 2024 municipal elections just 53 days away, the People’s Alliance has momentum, while the opposition parties have failed to form alliances. The main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), built electoral alliances in 2019 and 2023. This time around, it has no choice but to collaborate with the pro-PKK Green Left Party (YSP), informally known as the Peoples' Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party), which succeeded the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), in some provinces. It is no secret that the potential partnership between the CHP and YSP in Istanbul would be facilitated by Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu – which would open him up to criticism from the People’s Alliance, as well as the Good Party (IP). Meanwhile, Başak Demirtaş’s seeming interest in running for mayor suggests that the CHP might have to campaign alone in Istanbul. She is, of course, the wife of jailed ex-HDP Chairperson Selahattin Demirtaş. Such a development would make “grassroots as opposed to intraparty cooperation” the only option on the table, but the main opposition party has been handling the situation in a very fragmented and counterproductive manner.

With the 2024 municipal elections just three months away, the crisis within Türkiye’s political opposition worsens amid accusations of conspiracy. The Good Party’s (IP) decision to contest the election “freely” and “individually” encouraged some members of the municipal councils in Ankara and Istanbul (who were part of the "ecosystem" that the two mayors created) and some parliamentarians to resign.

The IP leadership’s refusal to endorse the main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) mayoral candidates in Istanbul and Ankara caused uproar among local chapters and council members, whom those municipalities support financially, as well as other proponents of electoral alliances. In other words, Ekrem Imamoğlu and Mansur Yavaş, widely seen as mayors of the 2019 alliance, used their influence over the IP – arguably the price that IP Chair Meral Akşener and her movement are expected to pay.

Why will CHP miss Kılıçdaroğlu?

Recently, commentators have been arguing whether CHP Chairperson Özgür Özel would make an offer to right-wing fringe parties. Recalling that pro-change voices within the main opposition party had been critical of the “table for six” and DEVA, Babacan argued it would be a “contradiction” for Özel to enter into talks with them. That was hardly surprising considering that the former CHP chairperson, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, faced criticism over his decision to offer parliamentary seats to DEVA, the Felicity Party (SP), the Future Party (GP) and the Democratic Party (DP). Indeed, the pro-CHP media treated the right-wing fringe parties like parasites.

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Why will CHP miss Kılıçdaroğlu
Akşener's leadership test Özel's style and Kemalism

Akşener's leadership test, Özel's style and Kemalism

Over the past few months, the Republican People's Party (CHP) has been working toward convincing the Good Party (IP) to join forces ahead of next year's municipal elections. Local leaders who happen to be part of the municipal ecosystem in Istanbul and Ankara support some type of collaboration.

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The municipal election campaign in Türkiye kicked off with a debate on alliances and cooperation. It seems that the People’s Alliance will campaign for the March 31, 2024 elections similarly to the 2019 and 2023 elections following a meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Chairperson Devlet Bahçeli.

The Good Party (IP) is trying to deal with resignations, an inquiry into the financial affairs of its chairperson’s family members, and allegations of missing funds and harassment.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) chairperson, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, rejected President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s call on all political parties to draft a new constitution – as expected. Besides questioning the current administration’s legitimacy, on which he blames his latest election defeat, the CHP chairperson urged his former allies not to negotiate with the ruling People’s Alliance: “The six opposition leaders shared their views on the constitution with the public already. We have signed that document and unveiled it. As journalists, you are welcome to ask the other leaders why they choose to invalidate their signatures.”

The Good Party (IP) Chairperson Meral Akşener continues to confront the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and the “table for six.” Recalling that she “drank the hemlock” for Kılıçdaroğlu’s victory, she recently said that “there is no such thing as the Nation Alliance anymore” and that “the IP and CHP are rivals.”

The Good Party (IP) took another step toward contesting next year’s municipal elections without joining any alliance as Kürşad Zorlu, the movement’s spokesperson, announced their decision to field mayoral candidates in all 81 provinces. As such, IP Chairperson Meral Akşener shut the door on a potential alliance with the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) – at least for now.

The attempt by the Good Party (IP) chairperson, Meral Akşener, not to form any alliances for next year’s municipal elections continues to set the political agenda in Türkiye. The current situation does not just highlight the opposition’s ongoing crisis. It also reflects on the May 2023 coalition that the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) spearheaded. That is why Akşener’s new discourse, on top of the CHP’s internal strife and "change" debate, remains the subject of a heated political debate.

Good Party (IP) Chairperson Meral Akşener is doubling down on “fielding mayoral candidates individually.” Although the People’s Alliance, led by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), talks about contesting mayoral races with “battering ram” candidates, Akşener remains inclined to get her party’s General Executive Council to make that decision permanent. She does not heed the warning of pro-Republican People’s Party (CHP) commentators that opposition mayors will not get reelected under the circumstances either.

As the Good Party (IP) Chairperson Meral Akşener’s criticism of the opposition alliance sets the political agenda, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who lost the 2023 presidential race, refuses to respond to Akşener or any right-wing party. Despite having formed the "grand coalition," he keeps mum and politely ignores questions from reporters.

With just seven months left until Türkiye’s local elections, the opposition remains focused on assigning blame for their election defeat. One might argue that properly reflecting on what happened in May 2023 would benefit the new alliance model. Yet, commentators close to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) make accusations against the alliance’s right-wing members, whose spokespeople make negative remarks about the alliance – which hardly amounts to meaningful analysis. If anything, the current debate threatens to alienate non-ideological voters, whom the opposition attempted to win over to secure a simple majority.

One might reasonably expect the "change" debate within the Republican People’s Party (CHP) to die down since Ekrem Imamoğlu, the mayor of Istanbul, announced his decision to seek reelection in next year’s municipal elections – instead of running for CHP chairperson. The main opposition party continues to elect its provincial delegates yet it seems almost certain that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the incumbent, will be able to keep his job with no major problems. That is why he should find it easier to set his party’s agenda, but the CHP will presumably remain preoccupied with internal confrontations.

Established to tackle the political and economic crises of the 1990s, the AK Party encountered many challenges. It opted for what was possible and rational as opposed to ideology to skillfully analyze the future of world politics.

Türkiye’s opposition parties continue to reflect on last month’s elections. The pro-opposition Nation Alliance has temporarily disbanded as its members remain preoccupied with their internal debates.

Türkiye’s main opposition leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, refuses to change. On Tuesday, he described President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as a threat to the country’s survival. His combative tone was obviously part of an attempt to resist calls for change from within the Republican People’s Party (CHP). That is why Kılıçdaroğlu said that he would be willing to enlarge the opposition bloc popularly known as the "table for six" to “bring Türkiye into the light” – in defense of his decision to form a grand coalition ahead of the May 2023 elections.