As Turkey gears up for a new round of Constitutional Drafting Committee sessions, the Republican People's Party (CHP) leadership continues to fuel polarization and places the country's political stability at risk. Launching a new offensive against the government last week, CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu called President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan "a tin-pot dictator" and used "libertarian democracy" to describe a new campaign by the CHP, where radical Alevi politicians recently dominated an intra-party election for the executive committee.
Although the CHP leadership's decision to hold primary elections received positive feedback from commentators, the policy proved harmful for the Republicans, who had severely underestimated the power of organized radicals within the party. Having experimented with identity politics on the campaign trail, the CHP leadership has now surrendered to a handful of activists capable of mobilizing the streets. In an effort to keep a lid on intra-party dissent, Kılıçdaroğlu was quick to adopt unusually strong language to criticize the government. The trend, however, is extremely dangerous. The growing gap between a moderate base and a party leadership dominated by radicals could further weaken Turkey's main center-left party, which is supposed to counter-balance the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in the political arena.
Having faced fierce criticism for turning a blind eye to ethnic and sectarian constituencies in the past, the Republican movement's adoption of identity politics represents a serious challenge for Turkey. To be clear, promoting the Alevi community's cultural rights would be an important step toward consolidating Turkish democracy, but it's absolutely crucial for politicians to contain such demands within the limits of parliamentary democracy. Talking about the rights of the Alevi minority to oppose the Sunni majority, as the CHP leadership does, could pave the way for sectarian clashes in Turkey.
In the meantime, Turkey continues to face criticism from the international media despite having taken concrete steps to fight terrorists and being committed to "finishing DAESH." In a recent article for The Independent, Robert Fisk drew parallels between Pakistan's war on the Taliban and Turkey's fight against DAESH to make the case that "ISIS [DAESH] now appears to have some infiltrators within the Turkish state apparatus." Timing, as they say, is everything: Mr. Fisk apparently waited until after Turkey started cracking down on DAESH networks at home and allowed the international coalition to use İncirlik Air Base before making atrocious claims. The article, furthermore, was notably published as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden happened to be in Turkey.
In recent years, a number of less-than-creative commentators have compared Turkey to Iran, Malaysia and Morocco. Comparing Turkey with Pakistan, however, is arguably the most effective way to discredit its government – and not because the two countries have a lot in common: To be clear, Turkey's DAESH policy is absolutely dissimilar to Pakistan's position on the Taliban. Nor does Turkish society remotely resemble the Pakistanis in ethno-religious terms. Still, Pakistan serves as a useful reference point for bringing together a range of unrelated accusations against Turkey: Taking an authoritarian turn, adopting a sectarian foreign policy, pursuing Turkey's Islamization and getting too closely involved in Syria. Simply put, Pakistan has the potential to scare Turkish citizens to death. The motives of Turkey's critics are quite clear: With Syrian peace talks around the corner, certain groups are keen on denying Syria's most powerful neighbor a seat at the table.
About the author
Burhanettin Duran is General Coordinator of SETA Foundation and a professor at Social Sciences University of Ankara. He is also a member of Turkish Presidency Security and Foreign Policies Council.