Wednesday, December 07, 2011

‘Whose party’ is the CHP?

The ongoing Dersim row has given analysts new reasons to shed light on where the main opposition is and where it is going. This was inevitable. The Republican People's Party (CHP) has become a political synonym with constant crisis, which describes a party in a remarkably unproductive limbo. It has failed to rise in the eyes of the dismayed voters, and it has managed not to implode. Its seemingly chosen place in limbo perplexes foreign observers, particularly those who insist on seeing with the CHP something new and progressive as an alternative. The “Dersim row” may have helped them to reconsider. It is necessary, because Turkey's political actors have already set the course, with the brand new constitution as a destiny; and the CHP, which is the key among all the oppositional players, needs a proper scrutiny. This is necessary, because the CHP's “limbo” status is chiefly responsible for keeping Turkey in limbo and at the mercy of an unequivocally strong political force -- this being the AK Party -- in power. What does the Dersim row tell us about the CHP? That it has a leadership in crisis? That Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the son of the severely oppressed and ruthlessly savaged Dersim natives, is in profound, existential trauma? That it is a party speeding towards termination or a full confrontation with its own heritage? In a sense, it can be argued that the regional crisis that is pushing the Baathist legacy towards extermination would inevitably come to the doorstep of the very party that stood as the role model for all the oppressive regimes in the Arab world. With its personality cult, strong “statism,” elitism and corporativist tradition, it was Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's very CHP that inspired nationalist Baathist systems that operated under strictly controlled parliaments. The drama of the CHP was that Turkey, luckily, had given way to free elections from 1946, and once the voter had the “sweet smell of free choice,” it was irreversible, despite three-and-a-half coups d'etat. But, even this objective fact was not enough to persuade the “role model” CHP to transform itself to a social democratic party, as its archrival, the conservative right of Turkey, managed to embrace the Muslim democrat identity. What is wrong today? Is the crisis in the CHP connected to its leader, its organization -- or those who continue vote for him? Perhaps, there is convergence between what Kılıçdaroğlu represents and what the voters expect of his party. A new survey by Ankara-based pollster MetroPOLL seeks to shed light on the latter, namely the current profile of the CHP voter and how s/he sees the party's policies. The overall picture depicts severely conflicting identities, a blend of confusion and discontent, and a high level of disappointment. Half of those who were asked find Kılıçdaroğlu unsuccessful and give this as the primary reason for the party's failure, while 41 percent of those asked do not approve of his “New CHP” motto. Over 50 percent believe that a leadership change will help the party, and Mustafa Sarıgül, mayor of Şişli, ranks highest among favorites. Interestingly, over 55 percent believe that the CHP does not represent “left” and “social democracy” strongly enough. Those who believe that the CHP is a Kemalist party are 82 percent, while those who expect the CHP to be a Kemalist party are 91 percent. Who is the CHP voter? Of those asked, 35 percent describe themselves as “Ataturkists,” while only 16.4 percent respond “I am a social democrat” and 11.5 percent declare “I am a nationalist.” There are more contrasts in the survey. While 72 percent say that Turkey needs a new constitution, 50 percent respond that they would prefer it to be based on Atatürk's principles rather than fundamental human rights and freedoms. Those who do not want any amendment in the first three articles of the current constitution go up to 69 percent (over 80 percent among the highly educated). Half of those asked say they do not believe the CHP will be able to solve the Kurdish problem. If the data presented are reliable, one can almost understand the dilemma of Kılıçdaroğlu. He personifies, as it were, all the confusion, anachronism and mistaken identity that define the voter profile of his party. One can find all those bits and pieces behind his zigzags and his Hamlet-like hesitations. Also, one can find all the obsession with the Kemalist dogma, which prolongs the trauma and fuels the mechanical discourse that defines the CHP's rhetoric. Overall, the case of the CHP is to feed further pessimism for all those who express anxiety for undue asymmetry in Turkey's politics. If any, one serious conclusion of this survey may be that the party's greatest concern is not the problem of leadership. It is hostage to its voters, who insist on the utopias and illusions of yesterday. They want to remain angry at today and resent tomorrow. They are far from hope. 2011-11-27

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