The democratic initiative, the constitutional package and change of leadership in the opposing CHP

In 2010, three major issues and events have occurred affect­ing the com­pe­ti­tion and posi­tion among the polit­i­cal par­ties. First, a human rights and minor­i­ty rights reform ini­tia­tive pro­posed by the rul­ing Jus­tice and Devel­op­ment Par­ty (Adalet ve Kalkın­ma Par­tisi – AKP) in sum­mer 2009, which was ini­tial­ly called the “Kur­dish ini­tia­tive” and was lat­er expand­ed to include var­i­ous oth­er aspects and thus came to be known as the “demo­c­ra­t­ic ini­tia­tive”; sec­ond, the con­sti­tu­tion­al pack­age pro­posed by the AKP with an aim to expand democ­ra­ti­sa­tion efforts; and, third, the res­ig­na­tion of the Repub­li­can People’s Par­ty (Cumhuriyet Halk Par­tisi – CHP) leader Deniz Baykal in ear­ly May 2010 under very con­tro­ver­sial conditions.

The Turk­ish polit­i­cal scene has been dom­i­nat­ed by four major polit­i­cal par­ties since the 2002 gen­er­al elec­tions. There has been a very tense and some­times con­fronta­tion­al com­pe­ti­tion between the gov­ern­ing AKP and the oppos­ing CHP and Nation­al­ist Action Par­ty (Mil­liyetçi Hareket Par­tisi – MHP). Anoth­er par­ty which is also rep­re­sent­ed in the par­lia­ment, the pro-Kur­dish Peace and Democ­ra­cy Par­ty (Barış ve Demokrasi Par­tisi – BDP, for­mer­ly known as the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Soci­ety Par­ty (Demokratik Toplum Par­tisi – DTP) is the oth­er major actor in the Turk­ish polit­i­cal scene.11On 11 Decem­ber 2009, in an unan­i­mous deci­sion, Turkey’s con­sti­tu­tion­al court decid­ed to dis­band the DTP due to its links with the out­lawed PKK. The deci­sion was made in accor­dance with Arti­cles 68 and 69 of the con­sti­tu­tion. Par­ty leader Ahmet Türk and Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment (MP) Aysel Tuğluk were barred from pol­i­tics for five years, los­ing their seats as MPs. The remain­ing MPs of the DTP formed a new group under the new­ly estab­lished Peace and Democ­ra­cy Party.

The demo­c­ra­t­ic ini­tia­tive of the AKP is a very con­tro­ver­sial top­ic, and has been dom­i­nat­ing the polit­i­cal agen­da since sum­mer 2009 when it was first announced.22For a detailed analy­sis on the issue and polit­i­cal par­ties’ posi­tions, see Ozge­han Senyu­va: Oppo­si­tion for the sake of oppo­si­tion? Polar­ized plu­ral­ism in Turk­ish pol­i­tics, Mid­dle East Review of Inter­na­tion­al Affairs, Vol. 13, No. 4, Decem­ber 2009. The main prob­lem of this ini­tia­tive was relat­ed with the lack of clar­i­ty in its con­tents. Despite cre­at­ing a lot con­tro­ver­sy with­in Turk­ish pol­i­tics and dom­i­nat­ing the dis­course in the first half of 2010, its full scope and con­tents still remain unclear. Despite some changes done to the con­sti­tu­tion by par­lia­ment (with severe oppo­si­tion and objec­tion by CHP, MHP and BDP) it seems that the demo­c­ra­t­ic ini­tia­tive is still short of sat­is­fy­ing any par­ty or group involved in the process. In the course of 2010, the gov­ern­ment tried to raise sup­port for their ini­tia­tive and was engaged in PR activ­i­ty. To serve this pur­pose, dif­fer­ent events were organ­ised. Among these events, the ones that raised most atten­tion and con­tro­ver­sy were the break­fast meet­ings with Prime Min­is­ter Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. So far, there have been dif­fer­ent break­fast meet­ings with socialites and even celebri­ties con­sist­ing of movie and the­atre stars, authors and poets, and even sports fig­ures, includ­ing foot­ballers and tech­ni­cal direc­tors of foot­ball clubs. While the gov­ern­ment stat­ed the pur­pose of these meet­ings was to share the con­tents of the ini­tia­tive with soci­ety and to raise sup­port for dif­fer­ent seg­ments of soci­ety, the main pub­lic inter­est remained poor or dis­tort­ed, focus­ing on who attend­ed these meet­ings and who protest­ed or even what food was served. In short, these efforts seem to work against the gov­ern­ment, tak­ing the focus away from the con­tent of the ini­tia­tive and its relat­ed actions by putting a tabloid spin on it. On the oth­er hand, the real con­tent of the ini­tia­tive still remains unknown to larg­er seg­ments of soci­ety and it is impos­si­ble to speak of a pub­lic con­sen­sus or sup­port for this ini­tia­tive. One should also note that objec­tion by the oppo­si­tion remains strong for dif­fer­ent reasons.

The pro­pos­al on the con­sti­tu­tion­al pack­age was anoth­er issue that received strong objec­tions from the oppo­si­tion. The con­sti­tu­tion­al pack­age includ­ed, among oth­er aspects, changes and amend­ments on mak­ing the clo­sure of polit­i­cal par­ties dif­fi­cult, the organ­i­sa­tion and com­po­si­tion of the con­sti­tu­tion­al court and the supreme board of judges and pros­e­cu­tors (Hakim­ler ve Savcılar Yük­sek Kuru­lu – HSYK), the tri­al of mil­i­tary per­son­nel in civil­ian courts for crimes oth­er than mil­i­tary crimes. The pack­age was crit­i­cised by the oppos­ing CHP and MHP for being pre­pared hasti­ly and untime­ly, for not involv­ing oth­er par­ties and groups in the for­mu­la­tion of changes, for try­ing to place the judi­cia­ry under the polit­i­cal hege­mo­ny of the rul­ing par­ty and threat­en­ing its inde­pen­dence, and for try­ing to pre­pare a con­sti­tu­tion­al and polit­i­cal struc­ture that would suit the rul­ing AKP.33Ntvmsnbc.com: Baykal: Anayasa değil, Erdoğan pro­je­si (Baykal: Not a Con­sti­tu­tion­al, Erdoğan Project), 19 April 2010; Ntvmsnbc.com: Bahçeli: Anayasa değişik­liğine esas­tan kapalıyız (Bahçeli: We are against the Basis of Con­sti­tu­tion­al change), 30 March 2010. The BDP also put for­ward crit­i­cism on changes con­cern­ing the clo­sure of polit­i­cal par­ties and lack of any­thing in the pack­age con­cern­ing edu­ca­tion in Kur­dish.44Ntvmsnbc.com: Demir­taş: Anayasa tama­men değişmeli (Demir­taş: The Con­sti­tu­tion should change com­plete­ly), 23 March 2010; Ntvmsnbc.com: BDP’nin oyu: Hayır, hayır (BDP vote: no, no), 12 May 2010. A joint approach was that the pack­age would remain an AKP project, not embrac­ing and meet­ing the expec­ta­tions of any oth­er group. As the pack­age could not receive the nec­es­sary num­ber of votes in par­lia­ment, it will be tak­en to a ref­er­en­dum on 12 Sep­tem­ber 2010. How­ev­er, the posi­tion of the oppos­ing par­ties remains a ‘No’ in the ref­er­en­dum. The posi­tion of one of the most impor­tant civ­il soci­ety organ­i­sa­tions in Turkey, the Turk­ish Indus­tri­al­ists’ and Businessmen’s Asso­ci­a­tion (TUSIAD) and a group of intel­lec­tu­als who are not affil­i­at­ed with any par­ty were also crit­i­cal, call­ing for a more com­pre­hen­sive and wide­ly accept­ed change to the con­sti­tu­tion. How­ev­er, the pack­age receives sup­port from the Inde­pen­dent Indus­tri­al­ists and Businessmen’s Asso­ci­a­tion (MÜSİAD) and intel­lec­tu­als who are clos­er to the AKP.

The third major event in Turk­ish pol­i­tics revealed itself in a very con­tro­ver­sial man­ner. On 10 May 2010, CHP leader Deniz Baykal announced his res­ig­na­tion. Con­sid­er­ing that Baykal had led the par­ty since 1992, this res­ig­na­tion was a very impor­tant turn­ing point. How­ev­er, the rea­son behind his res­ig­na­tion, the cir­cu­la­tion of a video tape which alleged­ly showed Baykal in a bed­room with a female politi­cian from his par­ty, cre­at­ed a wide debate, espe­cial­ly fol­low­ing Baykal’s accu­sa­tions that the gov­ern­ment was behind the cir­cu­la­tion of the tape. Despite being declared fake and fab­ri­cat­ed by dif­fer­ent author­i­ties lat­er on, the tape and the fol­low­ing res­ig­na­tion of Baykal was seized as an oppor­tu­ni­ty by cer­tain cir­cles inside the CHP to end the eigh­teen year rule of Baykal.55BBC: Turk­ish oppo­si­tion leader quits over ‘sex tape’, 10 May 2010.

The AKP vic­to­ry in the 2009 local elec­tions, like the 2007 gen­er­al elec­tions, stim­u­lat­ed detailed analy­sis on the oppo­si­tion par­ties and par­tic­u­lar­ly crit­i­cism on their inabil­i­ty to offer a major alter­na­tive to the AKP. The major share of the crit­i­cism was direct­ed towards the CHP and pri­mar­i­ly towards its leader, Deniz Baykal. The oth­er major oppo­si­tion par­ty, the nation­al­ist MHP, and its lead­er­ship were free of a harsh reac­tion from its grass­roots, main­ly due to its strong hier­ar­chy and lead­er­ship struc­ture. How­ev­er, the CHP and its leader were under severe crit­i­cism for not being able to increase their share of the vote and, accord­ing to some, being con­tent with being in opposition.

A pop­u­lar fig­ure with­in the par­ty, Kemal Kılıç­daroğlu, who had drawn atten­tion through his pop­u­lar cam­paign for the Istan­bul Met­ro­pol­i­tan Munic­i­pal­i­ty in the 2007 local elec­tions, was elect­ed in a land­slide elec­tion at the par­ty con­gress on 22 May 2010. A retired high lev­el bureau­crat from the South East region of Turkey with Kur­dish-Alavite roots, Kılıç­daroğlu has raised very high expec­ta­tions from the party’s loy­al grass­roots. Since his elec­tion, dif­fer­ent sur­veys have been pub­lished by dif­fer­ent sources indi­cat­ing that the CHP, led by Kılıç­daroğlu, has the poten­tial for an increase of votes. How­ev­er, these sur­veys were not dis­closed ful­ly, thus leav­ing some sci­en­tif­ic doubt on their find­ings. Kılıç­daroğlu, since his elec­tion, focused on the eco­nom­ic poli­cies of the gov­ern­ment and the cor­rup­tion at local and nation­al lev­els. This already indi­cat­ed a dif­fer­ence with Baykal’s dom­i­nant dis­course on the ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences with the gov­ern­ing AKP and his pref­er­ence for polarised plu­ral­ism, main­ly on the reli­gious-sec­u­lar­ist divide. There are expec­ta­tions that Kılıç­daroğlu will take the par­ty to a more social-demo­c­ra­t­ic stance and ease up on the nation­al­ist and sta­tist posi­tion of Baykal.66Eurac­tiv: New oppo­si­tion leader brings excite­ment to Turk­ish pol­i­tics, 26 May 2010. Despite includ­ing some new names in his team, Kılıç­daroğlu also received severe crit­i­cism on his coali­tion with Önder Sav, the long-serv­ing sec­re­tary-gen­er­al of the par­ty, who is con­sid­ered by many as the mas­ter­mind behind the cur­tains. There have been crit­i­cal voic­es say­ing that Sav’s remain­ing in pow­er would mean the con­tin­u­a­tion of old policies.

How much Kılıç­daroğlu will suc­ceed in meet­ing the expec­ta­tions, espe­cial­ly in the upcom­ing elec­tions, still remains to be seen. While it is true that the res­ig­na­tion of Baykal cre­at­ed some momen­tum and excite­ment among the dis­il­lu­sioned par­ty sup­port­ers, how many new vot­ers Kılıç­daroğlu will attract and how much he could be affect­ed from a poten­tial inter­nal par­ty con­flict is dif­fi­cult to assess at this stage. On the oth­er hand, one should not under­es­ti­mate the influ­ence and reach of Baykal inside the par­ty, who did not ful­ly back Kılıç­daroğlu. There is no guar­an­tee that, at the first hint of elec­toral fail­ure by Kılıç­daroğlu,  Baykal will not try to reclaim the seat that he has occu­pied for almost two decades.

    Footnotes

  • 1On 11 Decem­ber 2009, in an unan­i­mous deci­sion, Turkey’s con­sti­tu­tion­al court decid­ed to dis­band the DTP due to its links with the out­lawed PKK. The deci­sion was made in accor­dance with Arti­cles 68 and 69 of the con­sti­tu­tion. Par­ty leader Ahmet Türk and Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment (MP) Aysel Tuğluk were barred from pol­i­tics for five years, los­ing their seats as MPs. The remain­ing MPs of the DTP formed a new group under the new­ly estab­lished Peace and Democ­ra­cy Party.
  • 2For a detailed analy­sis on the issue and polit­i­cal par­ties’ posi­tions, see Ozge­han Senyu­va: Oppo­si­tion for the sake of oppo­si­tion? Polar­ized plu­ral­ism in Turk­ish pol­i­tics, Mid­dle East Review of Inter­na­tion­al Affairs, Vol. 13, No. 4, Decem­ber 2009.
  • 3Ntvmsnbc.com: Baykal: Anayasa değil, Erdoğan pro­je­si (Baykal: Not a Con­sti­tu­tion­al, Erdoğan Project), 19 April 2010; Ntvmsnbc.com: Bahçeli: Anayasa değişik­liğine esas­tan kapalıyız (Bahçeli: We are against the Basis of Con­sti­tu­tion­al change), 30 March 2010.
  • 4Ntvmsnbc.com: Demir­taş: Anayasa tama­men değişmeli (Demir­taş: The Con­sti­tu­tion should change com­plete­ly), 23 March 2010; Ntvmsnbc.com: BDP’nin oyu: Hayır, hayır (BDP vote: no, no), 12 May 2010.
  • 5BBC: Turk­ish oppo­si­tion leader quits over ‘sex tape’, 10 May 2010.
  • 6Eurac­tiv: New oppo­si­tion leader brings excite­ment to Turk­ish pol­i­tics, 26 May 2010.

The reports focus on a report­ing peri­od from Decem­ber 2009 until May 2010. This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March and April 2010. Most of the 31 reports were deliv­ered in May 2010.

The EU-27 Watch No. 9 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.