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CHP: Into the unknown

Wednesday 1 December 2010, by Yavuz Baydar

As soon as he felt a bit safer with regard to the fragile political
landscape after his entry as chairman of the Republican People’s Party
(CHP), one of the most defining moments for Kemal Kiliçdaroglu was to
assemble a conference with a limited and secretive attendance that strictly
adhered to the Chatham House Rule.

The meeting, which ended with a series of ideas and proposals for a new
identity and direction, preceded the “operation” of ousting Önder Sav from
the post of secretary-general within a matter of days.

Those with insider knowledge of the meeting cannot conceal their surprise at
how quickly Kiliçdaroglu moved in to “implement” some of the decisive major
points underlined in the meeting. One insider commented, "Usually it takes a
leader time to absorb the content before acting, but in this case he saw the
opportunity and did not hesitate."

There is a lot of truth in this, showing where Kiliçdaroglu is moving to
turn his chairmanship into leadership, in the slippery, treacherous
environment called the CHP. His ensuing steps confirmed that they will
either make or break his party.

It is hard to know whether or not he impressed his comrades in the Socialist
International, but he clearly displayed the profile of a leader exactly
opposite that of Deniz Baykal, his predecessor. Kiliçdaroglu has the old
leftist in his DNA, which helps to establish a common terminology and new
prospects with the SI community.

While in Paris he went even further, and did something Baykal never would
do: He visited Père Lachaise Cemetery and laid flowers at the graves of two
Kurds — the legendary Marxist director Yilmaz Güney and Kurdish singer
Ahmet Kaya. He topped his surprise moves with a visit to Diyarbakir, where
he met locals and talked about what he calls “the new CHP” attempting to
create a “third path” between the Justice and Development Party (AK Party)
and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) as a “democratic alternative” to
shape a “united or allied left” and challenge the current status quo. These
remarks came as some politicians even discussed the (remote) possibility of
a CHP-BDP alliance in the next elections. Fruitless or far fetched as these
moves look, they tell us that Kiliçdaroglu intends to push his party into
new waters.

But, he is only in the beginning of a tough journey. Challenges will be
multifaceted, both inside and outside. Kiliçdaroglu knows that the old
Baykal line is an infinite loser, but it is doubtful he knows how to
convince party people. For this, he needs to convince himself that the party’s
worn out ideology, Kemalism, must at least be sharply revised to
harmonize with the democratic left — a very arduous task. The widely shared
belief among the party’s modern flank and outside observers is that leaving
behind the legacy of Kemalism is the only way for the party to be integrated
into civilian politics and to be “normalized.” This is a precondition for
Turkey’s major, chronic issues to be resolved by consensus.

Every step he takes brings the party closer to a watershed. Now, the next
issue is whether or not Kiliçdaroglu will need to hastily assemble an
extraordinary congress, possibly before the end of the year. The reason is
obvious: He controls only one-fourth of the party assembly, which defines
the candidate deputy lists for the next elections. Baykal and Sav lurk in
the background and still have considerable power. Should the new leader keep
the party assembly intact, he may face an uphill battle and end up
breathless. To consolidate his power even more, the need for a congress
seems inevitable as days go by.

His own identity as an Alevi from Dersim is both an asset and a
disadvantage. As this helps him win back the Alevis and warm up to Kurds,
the old elite of the CHP feel increasingly uncertain about his intentions.
Kiliçdaroglu has so far moved in the area of what is possible, and it may
not be enough. At the moment he is on a move into the unknown.

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Source : TdZ, 24 November 2010, Wednesday

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