Ankara (GPA) – Turkish Presidential candidate Muharrem Ince has vowed to continue his fight with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan if his party’s old guard will let him.
With the Turkish election over and Erdogan in office for another five years, it is time for the opposition to get their act together. One man looking to do this is the runner-up in the Presidential election, Muharrem Ince, who had promised to be “everyone’s President” and courted a good portion of votes from multiple sectors of the opposition during the campaign.
There is a slight problem with Ince’s ambitions, however. Although Ince is affiliated with the Republican People’s Party (CHP), he doesn’t currently hold any leadership positions within the party. This means that even though he was the candidate of the CHP, now that the election is over he isn’t really in a position with any actual power to oppose Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP).
While Ince was the candidate of the CHP, the official chairman of the party and the official head of the parliamentary opposition is actually Kemal Kılıcdaroglu. a 69-year-old senior member of the CHP has recently come under fire after the election when he slighted Ince, saying he “performed below expectations,” revealing an ongoing internal party struggle between the older members and younger up and comers.
Ince called for this kind of change during the campaign, saying several times that the government in Turkey was in desperate need of new blood. Now obviously Ince never said this about Kılıcdaroglu or any other CHP members at that time but now that the election is over it seems Ince has taken his plan for rejuvenation of the Turkish opposition straight to the CHP leadership.
Ince (as well as other CHP members) have now begun discussing the removal of Kılıcdaroglu as chair of the party. Many people have become disillusioned with Kılıcdaroglu after the past few years of his leadership, seeing him as weak and ineffective against the AKP. While Kılıcdaroglu would say this is mostly due to Erdogan’s growing power and the state of emergency but this line no longer seems effective in deflecting criticism.
With Ince’s popularity during the election (and upcoming regional elections in March), the calls for Kılıcdaroglu to step down have grown louder, and even though Ince has challenged his leadership – and lost – several times in the past, it seems much more likely that he could win now. While the previous attempts by Ince to unseat Kılıcdaroglu have failed in the past, this time there seems to be more support from Ince, both from other members of the CHP leadership and the Ince’s grassroots supporters.
Many of the senior CHP members, such as Bedri Baykam fear that losing Ince and his broad support base this close to regional elections would be a disaster, saying that losing Ince’s popularity “would bring turmoil in CHP before the local elections.” This popularity has been continued to show in the grassroots of the CHP following the election too with some Ince supporters blocking the party’s headquarters in Ankara and demanding a party leadership conference.
Muharrem Ince has apparently heard the call for change and in the last few days had made some moves to attempt to take a leadership position in the CHP without causing a split between his camp and that of Kılıcdaroglu. Ince attempted this on Tuesday when he met for a three-hour dinner with Kılıcdaroglu in which he offered to take over as party chair while keeping Kılıcdaroglu in the party, saying he “proposed that if [Kılıcdaroglu] wants, he could call for an emergency convention, that I could become chairman and he could be the honorary chairman. I have made the proposal. I don’t know. It will be at his discretion,”
Ince did clarify after this though that his top priority is still keeping the CHP together and was guaranteed that what he was not looking for was an interparty coup, saying a move like that would be disloyal to Kılıcdaroglu,”a person who put me forward as the presidential candidate.” Ince did promise, however, to “not collect signatures if he refuses,” saying that, instead, the party should resolve the issue, although the statements about collecting signatures were seen as a signal to Ince’s supporters to work for an emergency convention.
Despite Ince’s fairly reserved statements, Kılıcdaroglu was enraged about Ince’s disclosure of their meeting telling reporters it was evidence of “political indecency.” Kılıcdaroglu went on to assure reporters (and his supporters in the CHP) that he has no plans to leave. This was confirmed later in the day by a CHP spokesman who told reporters that the party “doesn’t have an extraordinary meeting on its agenda.”
This response by Kılıcdaroglu is cause for concern both within the CHP as well as Turkish politics in general. With the massive wave of popular support for the CHP including votes from all sectors of the Turkish electorate, including some that would have never backed the party in the past, it is obvious that if there is one figure that would best be able to unify the CHP and the parliamentary opposition to the AKP, it would be Ince.
If Kılıcdaroglu refuses to step down it is likely Ince’s supporters will seek to run him for chair against Kılıcdaroglu in the near future. If this were to occur too late, it could mean the party will be in chaos right when they should be preparing for the March elections. Realistically, the CHP should be preparing for local elections right now but they must first clear this leadership hurdle.
What happens next will likely determine the overall state of the Turkish opposition over the next 5 years as Erdogan assumes his new sweeping powers from the 2017 constitutional referendum. With Ince, the most of the opposition parties are likely to rally behind the CHP in an attempt to stop the worst of the AKP’s abuses. Kılıcdaroglu hasn’t done this in the past and it is unlikely he will start now, and doesn’t have the support to properly oppose the AKP even if he wanted to. If the CHP really want someone to fight Erdogan and unify the parliament – and likely get the necessary votes in March – they’re going to need Ince.