Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"New" Survives

PHOTO from Radikal

CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu more than weathered two extraordinary congresses held in the past two days. On Feb. 26, the party held its first convention, which was called by Kilicdaroglu in response to a petition by the old guard within the CHP that is attempting to defeat Kilicdaroglu and what the party's new leadership has called "the new CHP"  (see past post). After having survived the first, the second convention was anti-climactic.

The CHP is Turkey's oldest party, and having undergone many transformations over the years, dates to Ataturk. In the 1990s and 2000s, the party had drifted from its earlier social democratic roots to embrace a traditional Kemalist/nationalist platform focused on secularism and defending the state against Kurdish separatism. During this time, the party was led by Deniz Baykal, who when I first started paying attention to Turkish politics, was regarded as a figure similar to the Energizer bunny -- he just would not go away. Yet all that changed in 2010 when a sex tape brought him down. The result was a party congress that brought forward Kemal Kilicdaroglu, an Alevi with a more progressive vision.

Though Kilicdaroglu is still far from what one might call progressive, he has also had a lot to deal with since coming to power (see past post) and the CHP has made tremendous strides to transform itself into something new. Sometimes it is hard be hopeful in regard to politics, but the shakeup in CHP offered some reason for optimism -- and, I think, continues to do so.

The congress convened with over 800 members, well over the 625 needed to establish a quorum among the 1,248 delegates. Baykal and party stalwart Onder Sav had attempted to wage a boycott of the convention, which would have essentially caused a crisis in confidence of Kilicdaroglu's leadership and brought him down. Luckily, they failed miserably, and Sav ended up giving a rather desperate-seeming and indignant press conference not far from the convention vowing that Kilicdaroglu would pay in the end.

Of the delegates, the breakdown between the old guard, loyal to Baykal and the old vision, approximates 400. Before the party's regular congress this summer, at which Kilicdaroglu will stand for re-election, many of these delegates will no longer be eligible to participate thanks to a rule regarding term limits.

Now that Kilicdaroglu has a significant feather in his cap, it can only be hoped that he will return the CHP to the more progressive positions it was taking before the election. At the convention, Kilicdaroglu promised to take on the issue of specially-authorized courts, though it lacks much clout in this regard, as well as fully embrace a social democratic and liberal version of Turkey.

The party also plans to strengthen internal party democracy, which has been lacking. Provisions in this regard include primary elections for parliamentarians, as well as open elections for positions in party branches. The CHP has also bolstered its gender quota from 25 to 33%, as well as introduced a youth quota of 10%.

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