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What Change is Expected in CHP?

By Murat Belge*

More than half of the society, not a little over but rather a little under, was not pleased with the results of the 2023 elections. “Just under half” is not a number to be “underestimated”. Naturally, this dissatisfaction leads to a desire for “change”. “We failed, so something must change for us to be ‘successful’ from now on.” These are “reasonable” thoughts. However, when thought gets to this stage, it leads to the question, “So, what should change?” From here, there is ambiguity. Some who express their thoughts on this issue mention what we might call “structural” changes. However, others’ opinions don’t go much beyond, “The Chairman should change”.

The concept of “Change” in the context of CHP (Republican People’s Party) is a continuous concept and a “move”. Initially, the party was established with a mission to change Turkey. In time, without making clear what exactly it wanted to change, the party decided to transition to a “multi-party election” system and made this transition. This was its most lasting move: society changed the CHP government. Despite interventions that could be interpreted as a return to the “one-party” mentality and style, these “coup periods” were not long-lasting.

When you say “Change in CHP”, the İnönü-Ecevit struggle of the 70s comes to mind. But there was a “modest” “change” attempt before this: the rise of Kasım Gülek in the party is indicative of this. He tried to make a “change” in the authoritative and stern image of CHP in the minds of the society. However, there were many in CHP who found this change strange and were irritated by Gülek.

Anyway, this led us to the 70s, Ecevit, and of course Feyzioğlu, Kemal Satır, and the National Security Party. Deniz Baykal, once a well-known supporter of Ecevit’s initiative, became more conservative once he took over the party.

Kılıçdaroğlu asked, “Do you agree with my thoughts?” He added, “If you don’t, don’t block my way”. To whom was he speaking? Probably to those familiar CHP members who were still clinging to parts of the old CHP shell. I believe there’s a considerable number of people among today’s “The Chairman should change” advocates who think this way.

Let’s abstract the problem. There’s a party and, of course, a chairman. He’s run for elections multiple times and lost. Would such a chairman continue in his position after yet another loss? Or would he say, “I will step down now” and resign?

When abstracted this way, the acceptable answer seems to be “Yes, he should resign”. However, when we look at the actual history, problems, and their assessments can change. It’s Kılıçdaroğlu who initiated – and made progress in – a “structural change” for CHP; but it’s also Kılıçdaroğlu who we are asking to “leave”.

“Reconciliation” is a keyword. Kılıçdaroğlu’s innovation, implementation, and new vision are based on this. This still seems to have a lingering effect. However, there are also problems of the recent past. We have the problem of how to oppose a government that’s ready to abandon its legitimacy at any moment, the Kurdish issue, its party, and politics. Kılıçdaroğlu didn’t perform brilliantly in these areas. Whether Kılıçdaroğlu is chairman or not, CHP must produce more satisfying solutions and strategies for these issues.

Yes, what should the future of Turkey look like, and how should we get there? CHP must present a tangible and convincing program for this. This is more important than who becomes the General Chairman.

This article originally published in Birikim Magazine on August 7, 2023 and translated into English by Politurco.

*Murat Belge (born 16 March 1943) is a Turkish academic, translator, literary critic, columnist, civil rights activist, and occasional tour guide.

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