upa-admin 25 Mayıs 2023 573 Okunma 0

Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), has been quite popular for many years, thanks to both being the party of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the country, and preserving the modern lifestyle based on secularism, which is heavily advocated by the intelligentsia and culture and arts circles in Turkey. On the other hand, CHP, especially since its re-establishment in 1992, has not shown great success in the general and presidential elections. It is useful to remember the past election performances of the CHP, which is currently on the agenda with the 45 percent votes of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in the first round of the 2023 Presidential elections.

After the transition to the multi-party system in Turkey, the CHP lost the 1950 general elections to the Democrat Party with 39.6 percent of the votes under the Presidency of İsmet İnönü, thus becoming the opposition for the first time after a 27-year single-party period. The CHP, which decreased its vote rate to 35.11 percent in the 1954 elections under the leadership of İsmet Pasha, increased to 41.4 percent in the 1957 general elections, increasing the hopes that it could defeat Adnan Menderes’ Democrat Party (DP) through the ballot box. However, due to the May 27, 1960 military coup, it was not possible for the CHP to take power through ballot boxes and end the DP administration. Looking at the 1950-1960 period, it is seen that the CHP was a Kemalist/Atatürkist party under the leadership of İsmet Pasha, has not yet made a left-wing expansion, and received votes from the state cadres and the urban modern population as the defender of the state.

The CHP, which entered the 1961 general elections held after the military coup under the Presidency of İsmet İnönü, became the first party with 36.7 percent of the votes and came to power again years later through coalition governments. Since this period, right-wing parties and conservative public opinion have criticized the army-supported position of the CHP and claimed that the “CHP + Army = Power” formula is not suitable for democracy. However, the CHP’s power did not last long and the party, which had 28.7 percent of the votes in the 1965 elections, had to hand over the power to Süleyman Demirel and the Justice Party (AP). In this period, under the leadership of Bülent Ecevit, who was the young deputy of the party (from 1957), the Minister of Labor (1961-1965), and later the Secretary General (1966-1971), starting from 1961, the CHP’s left-wing transformation process started and İsmet Pasha also supported this trend. During this period of approval, the party took important steps towards transforming from a state party to a European-style leftist party by creating organic ties with labor movements and other socialist and social democratic actors. However, this transformation, which started with the slogan “left of the center” (ortanın solu) and later became the “democratic left” (demokratik sol) under the leadership of Ecevit in the following years, did not increase the votes for the party in the 1969 general elections and the CHP had to give the power to Demirel again with only 27.37 percent of the total votes. The CHP, which entered the 1973 general elections held after the March 12, 1971 memorandum under the Presidency of Bülent Ecevit, became the first party again after years with 33.3 percent of the vote, and “Karaoğlan” Ecevit, who formed an unexpected coalition with Necmettin Erbakan’s National Salvation Party (MSP), achieved a historic success with the Cyprus Peace Operation in 1974. However, when Ecevit, who hastened to rely on the success of the Cyprus Peace Operation, broke the coalition in hopes of early elections, Demirel established the first National Front (MC) government and removed the CHP from power again. Ecevit and CHP, which showed a successful graph with 41.38 percent of the votes in the 1977 general elections, were able to form a “patchy bundle” government with the transfers made from other parties because they did not have a parliamentary majority, and could not develop a solution to the deep economic and political problems of the country. In this period, it can be said that the CHP developed close ties with the unions and worker-laborer movements and was very influential on the Kurdish population, thus, presenting a contemporary social democratic/socialist party appearance.

While politics was reset in Turkey with the military coup of September 12, 1980, the left, which took part in the political scene with the Populist Party (HP) and the Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP) instead of the banned CHP, became the first party with 28.69 percent of the votes in the 1989 local elections with the SHP led by Erdal İnönü. Apart from this success, the SHP did not show much serious existence. During these years, the left was represented by two different political parties, Erdal İnönü’s SHP and Ecevit’s Democratic Left Party (DSP). In this period, while the Kurdish political movement gained momentum and became a party, a cooperation environment was formed between the SHP and the Kurdish political movement from the end of the 1980s, and the fruits of this were partially seen in the 1989 local elections. The SHP also became a member of the Socialist International during this period. Despite the fact that the SHP, which was below expectations with 20.75 percent in the 1991 elections, served as a junior partner in the coalition government with the DYP in the 1991-1995 period, it could not prevent the increasing radical Islam and Kurdish nationalism in the country and reactions to İnönü’s leadership increased.

After the CHP was re-established in a more Kemalist and nationalist line with the leadership of Deniz Baykal and with the contributions of İsmail Cem -in response to the SHP’s close stance to the Kurdish political movement- in 1992, the SHP-CHP merger took place. During the merger a strategy known as the “Hikmet Abi formula” was implemented and Hikmet Çetin became the Chair of the party for a while. After the temporary Presidency of Hikmet Çetin, Deniz Baykal started to freely redesign the party as a pro-secular and unitary middle-class party. In the 1995 general elections, Baykal’s CHP fell short of expectations and lagged behind the DSP with only 10.71 percent of the votes. When the CHP, under the leadership of Baykal, reacted with its belligerent attitude during the February 28, 1997 process, the party’s voting rate fell below the threshold with 8.71 percent of the votes in the 1999 general elections. Thus, the party also lost its representation in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM). After this, with Baykal’s resignation, journalist Altan Öymen became the Chairman of the party in the 1999-2000 period, while the “factionalist” (hizipçi) Baykal, who managed to keep his party delegates in place, took over the leadership of his party again in 2000. The party maintained its membership in the Socialist International during these periods; however, it followed a more nationalist and Kemalist policy and tried to appeal to the middle class instead of the working-class. Since these years, the Kurdish support of the party has also decreased considerably.

The CHP, which stood out as the defender of secularism and modern life against Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AK Parti, who rose in the second Baykal era, was able to get 19.39 percent of the votes in the 2002 elections and 20.87 percent in the 2007 general elections, and thus, suffered heavy defeats against Erdoğan. During this period, the CHP again adopted a very nationalist/Atatürkist style and took care to stay close to the Turkish nationalist MHP against the AK Parti. Baykal’s strategy in this period, on the other hand, was to come to power with an interim regime period similar to February 28 with the support of the MHP, using the secularism-based problems that the AK Parti and Erdoğan had with the state and particularly with the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), but these efforts were unsuccessful.

As a result of Baykal’s dismissal from the leadership of the party with a sex tape scandal in 2010, the then-rising star of the party, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, was elected the new Chairman. Kılıçdaroğlu, who increased the party vote to 25.98 percent in the 2011 general elections, entered the 2014 Presidential election together with the MHP by appointing Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the former Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and despite İhsanoğlu’s 38.44 percent vote, Erdoğan won the election. Kılıçdaroğlu, who received 24.95 percent of the votes in the June 2015 elections and 25.32 percent of the votes in the November elections, could not approach the performance of the AK Parti, which was in the band of 40 percent, although he succeeded in expanding the party base partially. While the presidential and parliamentary elections were held in 2018, the votes of the CHP fell to 22.65 percent in the parliamentary elections, and in the presidential election, CHP candidate Muharrem İnce lost the election to Erdoğan in the first round with 30.64 percent of the votes. On the other hand, Kılıçdaroğlu made an effort to open the way to power in the country where the Presidential system was passed by establishing alliances and showed everyone that he was very determined in this direction with the Justice March (Adalet Yürüyüşü).

When the unserious administration by the Erdoğan government during the earthquake disaster in February 2023 was added to the economic difficulties that reached an incredible level with the increasing arbitrary administration and corruption in the country, Kılıçdaroğlu’s CHP entered the 2023 general and Presidential elections confidently and believed that they could finish the election in the first round. However, despite the alliance policy and the Nation Alliance (Millet İttifakı) umbrella initiative, the fact that the party had got only 25.33 percent of the votes in the parliamentary elections, and that Kılıçdaroğlu was well behind Erdoğan in the first round of the presidential election, where victory was expected, party supporters and cadres fell into despair by considering these results as a defeat. Although Kılıçdaroğlu was able to get approximately 45 percent of the votes, it seems like the intra-party conflicts and debates will increase after the election. CHP, prior to the second round, by increasing the dose of nationalism and anti-immigrant rhetoric, opposes Erdoğan regime harshly and hopes to come to power by collecting Sinan Oğan, Ümit Özdağ, and Victory Party’s (Zafer Partisi) votes.

As of May 25, 2023, when this article was written, my expectation is that Erdoğan will win the election in the second round. Although this is of course also due to the unfair competition conditions in Turkey mostly caused by the hyperpresidentialism system often labeled as “Sultanism” by Western political scientists, the fact that the CHP’s electoral base still remains at 25 percent and the party’s difficulties in reaching the votes of workers, Kurds, and conservative-nationalist people living in Anatolian cities make us think that all the stages on the way to turn into a mass party or catch-all party have not been completed yet. We will see how the second round will affect CHP and its leadership…

Assoc. Prof. Ozan ÖRMECİ

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