A Unique Example of Political Participation in Turkey: Twin Congresses

The latest two congresses of CHP constitute an unprecedented move in the history of political parties in Turkey. Held in succession on February 26th and 27th of 2012, both congresses have set a unique example of political participation with regards the internal workings of political parties in the country. During congresses, CHP addressed the issue of ratification of the changes in her by-laws; unfolding a unique example of inter-party democracy.

The Party Congress is the highest decision-making body in CHP to determine, formulate and oversee the party leadership, party policies and operating rules and regulations of the party. Several independent observers of Turkish politics as well as a significant portion of the interested public criticized these congresses as the manifestation of management inefficiencies; labeling it yet another example of CHP’s alienation from the needs and expectations of the mass public and the electorate. They maintained a condescending view of CHP as the “party of congresses,” attaching a rather demonizing value to party congresses.

Yet another group of observers, mainly within close business and political circles in and around the very ranks of the Party, viewed the congresses as a critical turning point in the recent history of CHP whereby the current leadership would bring to end the influence of the members of the “old guard.” The “old guard” signifies the ruling officials of the party who had dominated the party organization since its re-opening in 1992 and reigned over its leadership with more or less “iron fist”. To them, the congresses would enable Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the current chairman of the Party, would not only consolidate and strengthen his position within the Party, but also elevate his popularity among the electorate.

Beyond leadership issues, the Party adopted certain new by-laws and principles which project a new view of politics and the world around. It is important to note that this new approach is diabolically different than the traditional position of CHP which took the State and the institutions at the center of its political focus. The new outlook, on the other hand, takes the individual as the central focus of political activity and defines State as an agency of service to public. The Party also increased, in its new by-laws, the gender quota from 25% to 33%, requiring 1/3 of all its elected posts to be taken up by the “other” gender, practically implying a positive bias in favor of women to enjoy a broader level of participation in decision making mechanism in the party. A 10% quota for the youth to be included in all elected posts in the party is now also in effect. These quotas will broaden and energize the electoral base of the party ranks, providing an important element of intellectual and social capital for the party in its political activities.

New by-laws have introduced party primaries as the main methodology for determining the candidates to the parliament as opposed to appointment by the central organs of the party. New by-laws is likely to make the CHP group in the parliament more representative of its constituency at the grass-roots level. A more representative parliamentary group would be expected to serve a more effective voice of alternative policies at all legislative levels; accommodating the needs and expectations of the voting public more efficiently.

With regard to leadership of CHP, Kilicdaroglu consolidated his position in the Party, elevating himself from the position of an “elected official” of the party to the position of the “elected leader”. Yet, it would be absolutely premature to argue that the consolidation of his power base in the party was due to a comprehensive elimination of the “old guard” and their followers from the Party. The congresses provided the Chairman with a strong legal and organizational mandate to enter into the ordinary congress, to be held next June or September. However, a comprehensive political agenda, an election-winning political program, carrying the footprints of the new party leadership is yet to be shared with the voting public.

About Nebil İlseven

PhD in banking, former chief of CHP Istanbul