Sunday, February 5, 2012

A House Divided

Tensions between the stalwarts and the leading new guard in the opposition CHP continue in the lead-up to what could be two extraordinary congresses held back-to-back at the end of this month while CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu continues to toughen his rhetoric against the ruling AKP government.

In January, dissidents within the CHP began to plan for an extraordinary party congress to challenge Kilicdaroglu's leadership (see past post) and successfully collected the necessary number of signatures from dissidents within the party to call for an extraordinary convention. Dissidents collected 362 signatures from among 1,250 delegates, 12 more than the 350 required to apply for the congress. The dissidents state that their aim is to bolster intra-party democracy, though their more likely aim is to challenge Kilicdaroglu. Among the dissidents' demands is a lowering of the number of delegates required to call for electing a new party chairman.

Outmaneuvering the dissidents, Kilicdaroglu called for an extraordinary congress of his own to be held before the dissidents. The congress is scheduled for Feb. 26, and will allow Kilicdaroglu to shape the agenda so that he might stave off dissident moves that would prove particularly damaging to his leadership. Allies of Kilicdaroglu claim their aim is to reach a compromise with the dissidents, though, of course, they are also driven by the need to preempt a resurgence of the old guard.

It is precisely this fear of a resurgence that has prompted Kilicdaroglu to retain the anti-democratic rules that he vowed to replace upon becoming party chair. While it is true that these promises were not met, as Vatan columnist Bilal Cetin points out, the party's lack of reform in this regard is also to some degree understandable given the fact that it is still very much fighting for its own survival. The dissidents are threatening to file legal action against Kilicdaroglu in an effort to forestall the convention, claiming that Kilicdaroglu's announcement of a Feb. 26 congress is a violation of the party's by-laws and the national Political Parties Law.

The move is also defensive on the part of the dissidents. Kilicdaroglu has plans to limit the number of terms CHP deputies can serve in parliament. At the moment, and unlike other parties (for instance, the AKP limits members to three terms), the CHP has no such rules. While more democratic, term limits are also a way for Kilicdaroglu to further consolidate his power within the parliament since most of the CHP deputies who would no longer be eligible are loyal to former party leader Deniz Baykal and Baykal's like-minded general secretary, Onder Sav. 

Ratcheting Up the Rhetoric: Erdogan vs. Kilicdaroglu

Meanwhile, Kilicdaroglu has continued to ramp up his rhetoric against Erdogan, and his efforts reach outside of Turkey. Today's column in the Washington Post has Kilicdaroglu pointing to the eight elected members of parliament who are still under detention, as well as the issue of mass detentions in general. Kilicdaroglu also addresses the attempt in January of one particularly zealous prosecutor to remove the leader's parliamentary immunity after he compared the facility in which the two detained CHP parliamentarians are being held to a concentration camp. After the incident, Kilicdaroglu asked that his parliamentary immunity be removed, a call echoed once more in this morning's Post.

The AKP, hesitant to draw even more criticism, has attempted to defuse the situation and has and will likely make no such move to remove Kilicdaroglu's immunity. The tenuous position Kilicdaroglu holds within his own party, and to some degree, amidst the Turkish electorate, is enough, as he is not perceived as a threat despite the recent rhetorical grandstanding, which, as I wrote in the January post referenced above, has more to do with his position within his own political party rather than an effort to garner votes throughout the country.

Tensions between the two parties have escalated in recent months as AKP prosecutors have launched investigations into the financial dealings of the Izmir municipality, a CHP stronghold. Izmir Mayor Aziz Kocaoglu currently faces 397 years in prison on corruption charges, and similar investigations are also ongoing in Eskisehir and Istanbul's Adalar district, also CHP strongholds.

There was also an earlier attempt by the government to link the CHP to funds coming from German foundations to CHP and BDP-controlled municipalities that some officials alleged, without much evidence, were being channeled to the PKK.

Additionally, speculation is brewing about a possible investigation into the sex tape scandal that brought down Baykal in 2010. According to Kilicdaroglu, an investigation could be launched soon as some prosecutors hostile to the CHP seek to portray the release of the tape as the work of an illegal criminal organization, and thereby launch operations against the CHP similar to the KCK operations in which the BDP is currently embroiled. This is still largely rhetoric at the moment, but the accusations are getting increased media attention, especially in hardline Kemalist newspapers like Sozcu

Seeking Solidarity with Europe

The CHP has also been active in seeking the support of fellow European socialists against what it is labeling as the encroaching authoritarianism of Erdogan and the AKP. The Socialist International condemned the recent legal action against Kilicdaroglu, issuing a declaration expressing its concern over freedom of expression and judicial independence. For its full statement, click here.

The party is also working with European politicians to establish direct dialogue between it and the European Union through joint working groups and other possible mechanisms. These efforts follow-up on a November trip Kilicdaroglu paid to Brussels, where met one-on-one with Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule. As Haberturk reports, CHP vice-president Faruk Logoglu has been following up on the initiative. This sort of outreach to Europe was unheard of in the days Baykal was party leader, and is one of many positive developments that has occurred under the auspices of the party's new leadership.

UPDATE I (2/13) -- The dissidents within CHP have re-scheduled their congress from March 1 to Feb. 27, the day after Kilicdaroglu is to hold his.

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