The main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) recently elected chairperson, Özgür Özel, is still looking for ways to back up his pledge to “change” with concrete steps. Despite having defeated Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who lost the 2023 presidential election, Özel needs to manage intraparty power struggles. Provided that some pro-CHP commentators refer to Özel as party chair and to Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu as the movement’s leader, it is safe to say that this dual structure has already become an actual fact within the main opposition party. Whether Özel is a mere placeholder or that party’s co-chairperson, this new situation shall take a toll on the CHP.
Attempting to keep Kılıçdaroğlu, who refuses to quit politics, in his corner, whether or not Özel will ever become the party’s actual chairperson depends on Imamoğlu’s performance in next year’s mayoral race. That is when the people will find out if Istanbul’s mayor and the CHP chair are brothers or if one oversees and consults the other.
One would expect the CHP’s pro-change wing to focus on winning mayoral races instead of the intraparty opposition. How the main opposition party will select its mayoral candidates, whether any allies of the former chair will be nominated and the election results represent key issues in intraparty politics. It also remains to be seen whether Kılıçdaroğlu’s supporters shall keep talking about the “daggers” in their back. Whereas the replacement of CHP’s chair would likely postpone the intraparty debate until next year’s municipal elections, Özel’s efforts to cooperate with opposition parties like the Good Party (IP) and the Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (HEDEP) as well as his pledge to lead the movement to the ideological left will remain hotly contested issues within the CHP.
Although Özel insists that the idea of an alliance has been severely tarnished, the possibility of a collaboration between the CHP and others (to help CHP candidates get elected) could transform next year’s municipal elections into a de facto general election. There is reason to believe that the CHP chair will attempt to persuade the IP, which already decided not to join any electoral alliance, to endorse the incumbent mayors of Istanbul and Ankara. Dealing with a barrage of resignations and internal turmoil, that movement ostensibly faces mounting pressure from the general public. It is increasingly likely that IP Chair Meral Akşener, overwhelmed by that pressure, would tackle her critics head-on. The IP base remains certainly interested in asking what distinguishes the current CHP from the previous chairperson’s party.
It goes without saying that the new CHP leadership acknowledges the HEDEP’s call for a transparent partnership and wants the wind of leftist politics to blow in Turkish politics. Yet the rapprochement between the CHP and the HEDEP would clearly disturb the Good Party’s base. That is why the main opposition party is most likely to face criticism over its ideological alignment with the HEDEP – not that Özgür Özel is bothered by that. At this time, the CHP leadership cares more about its partnership with the HEDEP than a potential trilateral deal including the Good Party. It is true that the main opposition party will make an offer to Akşener, but observers maintain that Akşener’s supporters would probably vote for Imamoğlu in Istanbul and currrent Mayor Mansur Yavaş in Ankara even if the IP leadership were to turn down that offer.
As for the CHP’s biggest problem, its lack of a clear political platform, the movement remains the country’s least influential party regarding foreign policy. For example, Özel recently faced backlash over his description of Hamas as a terrorist organization. Ahead of next year’s municipal elections, his party does not seem likely to tap into foreign policy and national security either. Unlike his predecessor, the CHP chairperson wants to run a leftist party and apparently seeks to welcome leftist politicians into the movement – instead of right-wing politicians, winning over the right with leftist policies like fighting poverty, unemployment and tax injustice.
Even if one were to disregard Imamoğlu’s bland brand of globalist politics, it remains extremely unlikely for Özel’s leftist ideology to translate into a discourse and campaign with the ability to impress the electorate. As he strives to generate content for his social democratic agenda, he will be forced to choose between the resurgent Kemalism and a transparent partnership with the HEDEP.
Meanwhile, there are many difficult questions that Özel and Imamoğlu’s CHP must answer: Is the movement actually ready for leftist politics? Can leftist rhetoric and policies mobilize the party organization and voters simultaneously? Could the wind of leftist politics blow in Turkish politics as the CHP openly collaborates with the HEDEP and even aligns itself with that party ideologically? What would be the cost and benefits of that decision?
His attempt to fine tune CHP’s left and right threatens to drag Özgür Özel into an insurmountable ideological crisis and deep questions of identity.
In this article
- Ekrem İmamoğlu
- Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Mayor
- Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu
- Mansur Yavaş
- Middle East
- Özgür Özel
- Türkiye's Good Party (IP)
- Türkiye's Green Left Party (YSP)
- Türkiye's Peoples' Equality and Democracy Party (HEDEP)
- Türkiye's Republican People's Party (CHP)
- Türkiye's Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairperson