Yet, we still tend to attribute a more pivotal role to the Republican People’s Party (CHP) when we refer to the opposition. This is because it has always been the party that represented the center in the ideological center-periphery dichotomy that has been in place since the establishment of the Turkish Republic.
The CHP represented the army, which believed to have established the republic without the involvement of the public; it also represented the civilian and military bureaucracy that was aligned with the army as well as the secularist, urban and relatively well-educated middle classes that were recruited via social engineering projects. Those who ruled the country under a dictatorial regime until 1950 were again this privileged sociological coalition that created the “opening conditions” of the republic and were represented by the CHP. This coalition implied a force that seized power through violence and pressure and tended to keep 80 percent of the public outside of the political system, perceiving them as a threat.
CHP as a representative of the status quo
Barring the “pro-public” policies pursued by the late Bülent Ecevit while he was at the helm of the party in the 1970s, the CHP has always acted as the representative of the status quo and bureaucracy in Parliament. Although since the introduction of the multi-party regime in the country it was never elected to government, except during Ecevit’s chairmanship, the CHP was not bothered with this fact. The parties that won the elections couldn’t assume political power in reality. They functioned like a municipality while a “deep” power made decisions about the country’s critical issues. The country’s economy was steered by the CHP’s natural allies, i.e., Kemalist elite capitalists. When democratically elected governments “went too far,” the army would step in with its weaponry, overthrowing the government and reformatting the political system in line with the needs and preferences of the elites. Therefore, securing the majority support of voters to become a government did not mean that party would really be in government. Thus staying in the opposition did not bother the CHP.
Yet, things started to change when the late Turgut Özal was elected to office in 1983, shortly after the Sept. 12, 1980 coup. Özal was a powerful leader and had undertaken serious economic reforms to integrate Turkey with the global system. The world was coming out of the Cold War and Özal saw where it was headed. So he put in place the adaptations the country needed to break its shell and open up to the external world. As these reforms brought Turkey closer to the world, the inconvenience of the rickety system from which the CHP derived its power started to become more and more salient. Realizing that the “deep” state was nurturing itself not only with the military but also with the Kurdish, Armenian and Cyprus issues, Özal launched serious initiatives to settle the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) issue. In 1993, the PKK issue was about to be solved. But this process was sabotaged when 33 soldiers in plainclothes were killed by the PKK in a suspicious terrorist attack in Bingöl. Later, Özal himself died suspiciously.
The deep state warded off the Özal threat, and managed to overthrow the Welfare Party (RP), a party having religious proclivities, in the postmodern coup of Feb. 28, 1997. But it couldn’t prevent the RP’s successor, the AK Party, from coming to power on Nov. 3, 2002, and the process that continues today started.
As a result of this process serving the public good, the CHP as the state’s party started to decrease in power. Therefore, the lack of a proper (main) opposition party implies a vital problem for Turkey. As a matter of fact, politics are normalizing. Everyone is supposed to play their part according to this normalization. Even those groups that don’t like and even hate the AK Party acknowledge that this party is very successful. However, while the AK Party secures the support of one out of every two people, the CHP can still secure one out of every four people. That is nothing to sneer at. But, due to it lack of foresight, the CHP cannot convert this level of support into meaningful, progressive and transformational policies. This is a problem not only for the CHP’s voters but also all of us. It is an anomaly that deals a heavy blow to quality of life across the country. Of course, it is not without reason that this anomaly persists. Indeed, the CHP represents the fears of a group of people who were the products of Kemalist social engineering who didn’t want to lose their privileges and who cannot accept equality with “others.” In a sense, the country has been experiencing a bloodless civil war between these two classes of people over the last 10 years. And, actually, what is happening as regards the pro-coup judicial moves and the critical cases against Ergenekon, a clandestine organization nested within the state trying to overthrow or manipulate the democratically elected government, and the Sledgehammer (Balyoz) coup plan is nothing but a power struggle. This is a quarrel between the AK Party, which represent the big masses of people in the periphery and which I call the “New Party of Old Turkey,” and the CHP which I call the “Old Party of Old Turkey.”
Looking at the ‘civil war’
This “civil war” was perhaps inevitable for the re-establishment of Turkey. Indeed, the system in which the public would be harassed politically and economically and the resources stolen from the public would be transferred to a small privileged minority would no longer be sustained. It seems that the winner is the AK Party, which engaged this war on a moral and rational basis and which carried some of the diseases of the old Turkey despite its reformist character.
In response to their defeat, those who engineered the CHP chose to make some changes to the party. They even invested their hopes in coups, serious economic crises and even natural disasters like a destructive earthquake in the Sea of Marmara that might lead to the weakening and resignation of the AK Party. When these miracles did not happen, the deep state realized there was no way to put the CHP in office other than via politics. And they overthrew former CHP leader Deniz Baykal with a sex tape scandal to open the door to Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s chairmanship. The only risk was that while introducing cosmetic changes to the party, part of the party’s voter base might be lost.
They needed effective methods to keep the voter base connected to the party. These methods were produced through the party’s advocacy for Ergenekon and the Sledgehammer coup plan, which implied that the civil war would continue to be fought via these cases. So, the CHP started to pay more visits to Silivri Prison, where the Ergenekon defendants are jailed, than they would pay to Parliament and they nominated some of these defendants for Parliament and even established offices in Europe to advocate for those involved in the Sledgehammer case. In this way, they tried to reverse their defeat inside by opening new fronts abroad. Thus, a voodoo doll was created so that the CHP could avoid a “democratic accident” in which the party’s supporters might distance themselves away from the party with rage for the sense of defeat.
The Taraf daily recently published the text of the propaganda letter which Umut Oran, who had joined the CHP as part of cosmetic changes during the Baykal operation and who is a member of the party’s Party Assembly (PM), sent to the members of the European Parliament for the Sledgehammer case. This text offers us a good opportunity to understand the “new CHP.” The scandalous document is titled “Sledgehammer: the summary of a fictitious coup plan.” This “young and new” face of the CHP had undertaken a PR effort to influence the 2012 Progress Report using distorted facts about the case, an initiative which can be considered an effort to influence the ongoing trial. This was an attempt to exaggerate some errors the judiciary had made such as the arrest of Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener to undermine the country’s efforts to confront with the past and get rid of the deep state. (I must note that Oran is the deputy co-chairman of the Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee and the deputy chairman of the EU Harmonization Commission).
Following the news story, Oran held a press conference and still used distorted facts during it. On the same day, Kılıçdaroğlu also held a press conference, giving the message that the CHP is against coups. This was because to openly advocate such a “policy” does not play nicely with the current facts in the country. Yet the public does not trust such a CHP. Even its own agitated voter base is not happy with it.
The CHP will continue to be a problem in the future. And if it continues as it is, it will perceive doing damage to the country as a “policy” until it is discarded in the dustbin of history.