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Who Must Change First? : Intra-Party Opposition Placed on the CHP's Agenda

The Republican People’s Party (CHP) has been attracting attention due to focusing on intra-party discussions instead of making impressive arguments for the country’s actual problems after losing in the elections. The supporters of the party are expressing their discontent with the chairperson, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, and some party officials that are known for their close relationship with him. Bolu Mayor Tanju Özcan's expulsion from the party due to his protest has also caused great repercussions. Different groups call for the change of chairperson and other officials who hold significant positions in the management of the party.

These kinds of intra-party power struggles have always been a defining characteristic within the CHP. For instance, Bülent Ecevit, who was one of the most famous chairpersons of the party, aiming to bring change, had harshly criticized İsmet İnönü’s policies years ago. Although most components of the party interpret the latest growing discussions as a norm of democracy, the public seems to lose trust in the party on the road to local elections. The supporters of the party say the chairperson’s actions do not match what CHP stands for. That is a considerable point because we cannot understand the reasons for internal or external criticisms without knowing what the party stands for.

CHP is a center-left party supported mostly by adopters of the ideology of social democracy. They have had six unchangeable principles for many years; republicanism, populism, nationalism, laicism, statism, and reformism, which are the main principles of Türkiye’s founding leader Atatürk. Its hundred-year history must not have been received nicely by the public because it can hardly exceed the 20%-25% vote rate in representative elections for years.

Their latest election campaign was focused on some keywords such as “change”, “democracy”, and “peace at home”. The party tried to rebuild its position and apologize for its traumatic place in the memories of sections of the country with religious sensitivities. Kılıçdaroğlu became a presidential candidate with a promise to resolve the polarization in the country and reconcile all parties on the path to achieving prosperity for Türkiye. During the election process, everyone who was dissatisfied with the current government supported him almost without any criticism. However, the latest election marked another defeat for his party in a series of losses. Building bridges with the electors and taking responsibility is very important, especially for the losing party, but even those who have been supporting the party for years could not understand the lack of communication with the public following the election.

Most parties in Türkiye choose to postpone all their issues after the elections since it’s the most laborious period for the parties. After the election, all the suppressed anger from opponents overflowed and was directed against CHP officials. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu did not describe the loss of the election as a defeat, highlighting the nearly 25 million votes he collected. The other ally parties’ leaders remained silent for a long time after the elections. Supporters question why no one sincerely accepts their mistakes after disappointing many people who trusted them. According to the party base, his post-election attitude did not display the alleged portrayal of a moral and honest politician.

Ekrem İmamoğlu, the mayor of Istanbul, stated many times that he is aware that change is needed, yet, he never showed any intention to be a candidate chairperson. In the meeting Ekrem İmamoğlu held with Onursal Adıgüzel, Engin Altay, Tekin Bingöl, Bülent Tezcan, Özgür Özel, Muharrem Erkek and Gökhan Günaydın, which was leaked to the news a few days ago, they talked about dismissals from district presidencies. These presidencies are of great importance for the convention process because they are among the institutions where the delegates who will vote during the convention are chosen by election. The dismissals caused a serious backlash in the party, but the request for annulment of this resolution was rejected in the last party assembly. Many political commentators claim the party officials took such steps to reduce the chances of a candidate going against Kılıçdaroğlu to win. Kılıçdaroğlu stated that the leaked meeting is not ethical and that these kinds of intra-party issues have to be kept confidential for the sake of local elections and the party, regardless of their right to criticize and call for change.

The mayors’ meeting for the upcoming local elections was the first time İmamoğlu and Kılıçdaroğlu came together after the leaked meeting. According to the statements of Yılmaz Büyükerşen, the mayor of Eskişehir and a highly regarded party member, all the criticisms were answered by the chairperson. It is also spoken in the media that there was tension between Bakırköy Mayor Bülent Kerimoğlu and Ekrem İmamoğlu during the meeting. It was reported that Kerimoğlu described the leaked meeting as immoral.

Another concerning issue arose as Kılıçdaroğlu's rhetoric of finding a reliable candidate for the chairperson position faced serious questioning from the public. If there are so many people in the CHP that he knows have not been reliable for all these years, why are these people still in the party? In the HaberTürk broadcast, the chairman stated that his duty as the captain of the ship is to transport the ship to a safe harbor; while defining the safe harbor as the 38th CHP Ordinary Congress, he wants the congress to be held before the local elections.

The possibility of an alliance for the local elections is not expected. The İyi Party, which is considered the most likely ally, keeps its distance from CHP due to the reactions after the elections. İyi Party leader Meral Akşener described allowing the help of 15 deputies from CHP to make

her party enter the parliament as one of her biggest regrets in life. In addition, Kılıçdaroğlu’s statement that no one was informed about the protocol, which granted three ministries to the Zafer Party and was signed with Ümit Özdağ, the chairperson of the Zafer Party, raised significant criticisms. Özdağ expressed his disapproval of the decision to keep the protocol secret since nationalist voters needed assurance regarding national security policies. In addition, he stated the members of the Nation Alliance were informed. The İyi Party Spokesperson, Kürşad Zorlu, on the other hand, asserted that nobody within the party was aware of such a protocol.

The contract with Halk TV and the fact that no supervisor for the party was sent to 16,000 ballot boxes are other issues that have sparked anger and frustration. Halk TV stated the contract was known for a long time by state officials. They said there is nothing against the laws, it is agreed to have the financial support of the party in return to broadcast their statements which are hardly broadcasted live by other channels. They also said that they could not understand the reason why Eren Erdem, the new CHP Vice Chairman in charge of communication, shared the termination of the contract with the public in a misleading way. CHP voters find the agreement with Halk TV disappointing on the grounds that it is similar to the actions of the government, which they accuse of controlling the media.

A second bloc that has been criticizing the chairperson publicly for years points to its possible candidate, İlhan Cihaner. He has been managing the We for the Future (Gelecek İçin Biz) platform since 2011. In addition, İlhan Cihaner was one of the suspects in the Ergenekon cases when Sadullah Ergin was the minister of justice. Ergin was elected as a deputy for the DEVA Party with the support of CHP in the latest elections. The main problem for them is that the CHP broke away from its ideology in order to get votes. They describe the move of people like Ergin, whom they believed to have harmed the country, to important positions in the country with the support of the CHP, as a disgrace for the party which is asserted to undertake the legacy of Atatürk. They demand the party adopt its social democratic base and not compromise on its principles. Lastly, they do not support İmamoğlu because of both ideological reasons and his attitude in the election process. They stated he always placed himself as a pro-change supporter without taking strong action to diversify himself from the officials of the party.

İlhan Cihaner’s latest statement:

“I would like to make the following call to CHP voters: You are not responsible for the defeat! Your ideas, politics, and candidates did not even enter the race! Now all the creators of the conflict at the legacy of several generations are paper tigers that look strong because you gave them that power. The brutal purge and hostility against those who objected to the party, Kemalists, leftist thought, and cadres, are among the main reasons for the disintegration and vulgarity that has emerged today.”

While the majority of those who voted for Kılıçdaroğlu want him to take responsibility and resign, it is also wondered whether the achievement of the party in the 2019 local elections can be maintained. Under these circumstances, the party’s image appears fragmented, with İmamoğlu, Kılıçdaroğlu, and others in different positions. The CHP's statement denying any crisis is no longer sufficient to address the concerns. The rhetoric of those who voted for the current government, claiming that the main opposition is unaware of the country’s problems and lacks stable management skills, is getting stronger every day. Despite all the problems in the election, the party’s base stood behind its leader. However, it is evident that there is little tolerance for any further mistakes.

Written by Nehir Türkmen

Edited by Melisa Altıntaş & Yağmur Ece Nisanoğlu

Works Cited:

“CHP Genel Başkanı Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu'ndan Habertürk'e açıklamalar - Son Dakika Haberleri.” Habertürk, 21 July 2023

“CHP belediye başkanları toplantısı 4 saat sürdü... Büyükerşen: Özeleştiriler yapıldı.” Independent Türkçe, 22 July 2023

“Herkesin Merak Ettiği 'CHP İle Olan Sözleşmeyi' Açıklıyor.” Halk TV, 23 July 2023

“CHP History.” The Republican People’s Party, 2021

“Önder Sav da “değişim” dedi: “10. yenilgisini almış CHP Genel Başkanı’nın görevde kalıcı olmak istemesi seçmenin güveni azaltmıştır.”” Serbestiyet, 26 July 2023

“CHP Parti Meclisi'nde itirazlar reddedildi - Son Dakika Haberleri.” TRT Haber, 24 July 2023

“CHP'de Tanju Özcan hakkında ihraç kararı - Son Dakika Haberleri.” TRT Haber, 26 July 2023

“CHP'de değişim isteyenlerin yaptığı gizli toplantı sızdırıldı.” TRT Haber, 19 July 2023

HaberTürk, and Anadolu Ajansı. “CHP Belediye Başkanları Toplantısı sona erdi! Kılıçdaroğlu'ndan "ittifak" mesajı.” 22 July 2023

“CHP'li İlhan Cihaner: Değişim diyenler ikinci cümleyi kurmuyor.” Independent Türkçe, 15 June 2023

Cihaner, İlhan. “Kamuoyuna Çağrı.” Twitter, Gelecek İçin Biz, 21 July 2023

Gürses, Özlem. “CHP'DE NELER OLUYOR ?” YouTube, 23 July 2023

“Ümit Özdağ İlk Defa Duyacağınız Selçuk Bayraktar İHA ve SİHA Gerçeklerini Anlattı!” YouTube, 26 July 2023 (between 25.48 and 47.07 minutes)

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