The question of who will be the 'candidate' for the 2019 presidential elections has shaken the balances in the main opposition CHP
The genie is out of the bottle. After the "yes" victory in the April 16 referendum to adopt a presidential system of government, the political parties are now focused on the elections in 2019. After the constitutional changes come into effect, the parties will run to get the majority of seats in Parliament, and there will be a presidential election on the same day. Since presidential candidates have to be chosen from this with a good reputation in the eyes of the public, it looks like the Turkish political arena will change in the next couple of years.
That's why things are hectic in the Republican People's Party (CHP), the main opposition party in Turkey. In a TV interview last week, ex-CHP leader Deniz Baykal called on party head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to either announce his candidacy for a presidential bid in 2019 or hold an extraordinary convention immediately to determine a candidate.
After long-time party leader Baykal resigned in 2010 following a videotape scandal, Kılıçdaroğlu announced his candidacy. After the attempted coup by the Gülenists on July 15 last summer, 36 members of the police force and two others with links to Fetullah Gülen's terrorist network were detained in August in what is known as the "cassette" case. It was already widely suspected that the Gülenists were behind the videotape scandal.
Kılıçdaroğlu had no rivals and was elected as leader of the CHP. Although the CHP saw a 6 percent increase in its share of votes during his term, it didn't win any elections. Before entering politics, Kılıçdaroğlu was a civil servant and served as head of the Social Insurance Institution (SSK) from 1992 to 1996 and from 1997 to 1999. The standards of SSK hospitals during his term were quite low and reports of scandals in hospitals were on TV almost every day. The governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which made huge healthcare reforms, used nostalgic videos of the SSK during Kılıçdaroğlu's term in its referendum campaign to make people recall the old days and make comparisons.
He was elected to Parliament as a member of the CHP in the 2002 general elections. In the 2009 local elections, he was nominated as the CHP's candidate for mayor of Istanbul. However, he lost with 37 percent of the vote. On the night of April 16, we started to hear some voices calling for Kılıçdaroğlu to resign, but the party leader declared 49 percent of the votes for "no" as a success.
According to Baykal, the CHP should now aim to hold the 49 percent "no" camp together and focus on the 2019 presidential election, using the referendum results as the party's road map in the future. He said the party needed to challenge itself in some way.
Baykal is not the only critical voice in the CHP. Deputy Muharrem İnce, who in the past challenged Kılıçdaroğlu, also called for an extraordinary convention to hold a leadership election. In a press briefing last week supported by 13 other CHP deputies, İnce said, "The extraordinary convention should be named the 'presidential election assembly'," referring to the 2019 elections. Praising the 48.6 percent of the votes for "no" in the referendum like Baykal, he said the CHP should change its "program, party bylaws, language, discourse and understanding of governance." According to İnce, the goal of the CHP should not be increasing its votes to 30 percent from the current 25 percent, but to seek a win of more than 50 percent.
Another CHP deputy, Fikri Sağlar, criticized party leader Kılıçdaroğlu in April for turning the CHP into a "one-man" party. Sağlar was referred to the party's disciplinary board over his remarks. It's not only him that has been in trouble. Kılıçdaroğlu slammed all dissident voices within the party last week in a TV interview, saying, "Nobody should exceed this level of criticism and say 'I can say whatever I want publicly.' I will show the door to whoever harms the party. It is that simple."
And last, the CHP's deputy head responsible for the economy and spokesperson Selin Sayek Böke resigned from her duties because of the lack of political struggle within the party against the referendum results. It looks like things in the CHP will not calm down any time soon.
Seeking a presidential candidate for "no" voters to run against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2019, Baykal noted last week that former President Abdullah Gül would have a good chance of winning if he were to run in the 2019 elections, saying that he shouldn't wait to make a decision because the process will start soon. President Erdoğan slammed Baykal for proposing Gül as their presidential candidate, while Gül said that he did not take the remarks seriously, adding that Baykal's statement was in line with internal party disputes.
In short, less than a month after the referendum, the CHP has started to seek a "savior" for the 2019 presidential elections. In spite of Kılıçdaroğlu's threats, party members have started to search for someone who is trustworthy, skillful, brave and popular in the eyes of the Turkish people. If the wanted "savior" can be found, it looks like he will first challenge Kılıçdaroğlu and then run for the presidency against Erdoğan in 2019. But the problem is, can he be found?
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