Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's chairmanship of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is being challenged by at least three rivals in the party's upcoming 37th ordinary congress.
The ordinary congress is set for July 25-26 and will take place at Bilkent University's Odeon exhibition center as it has a semiopen structure, deemed a safer spot than a fully enclosed venue as the coronavirus pandemic continues. On the first day of the congress, CHP's next chairman will be elected, and on the second day, 60 party caucus members will be chosen.
First contender: former deputy Atıcı
The first party figure that announced his candidacy was a former deputy from southern Mersin province, Aytuğ Atıcı.
Atıcı was harsh against Kılıçdaroğlu in his candidacy bid, saying: “Our party, which managed to garner 25.9% of the votes in the 2011 elections, dropped down to 22.9% in 2018.” He added that measures needed to be implemented to guard against the party’s decreasing popularity.
“We must respond to this decrease with alarm and take precautions,” Atıcı said, calling upon Kılıçdaroğlu to take things seriously and not count on the party’s success in the 2019 local elections, when it won against the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) candidates in many prominent provinces, including Istanbul, Ankara and Antalya.
“The success we enjoyed in the 2019 local elections was thanks to the support of the Nation Alliance and the fact that HDP voters opted for CHP candidates,” he said, pointing to his party’s alliance with the Good Party (IP) and the fact that most voters who supported the pro-PKK Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) voted in favor of Nation Alliance candidates in metropolitan provinces.
“Considering the fact that alliance scenarios can change anytime, our party should first stand on its own legs, rise with its own power and only then look for possible alliances,” he said.
Atıcı also lashed out at other officials in his party, calling for resignations upon any decrease in votes.
“Any provincial or district head, should they get fewer votes in their particular areas compared to the previous election – even by as much as 1,000 – should be made to resign,” Atıcı added, referring to votes garnered by the CHP itself and excluding support for the alliance.
“Our members, who have paid heavy prices for supporting the CHP and who have not abandoned the CHP even though it has not been in power for the last 70 years, have the right to determine their officials,” he said.
“This right must be granted. Do not stay silent, be free," Atıcı added.
Atıcı is a Turkish academician and a professor of medicine. He is also a human rights and environmental activist who has been elected as a CHP deputy from Mersin three times.
Second challenge from honorary member
An honorary member of the CHP party congress, Tolga Yarman, has also announced his candidacy for chairman, giving a written statement ahead of an upcoming news conference.
Yarman stated that he would visit the current chairman Kılıçdaroğlu after the news conference.
Party spokesman Faik Öztrak commented on Yarman’s announcement, saying, “Anyone who meets the requirements may run for chairman in the congress; there is nothing strange about this."
Yarman is a physics professor with a prominent academic background. His fields of interest include nuclear science, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, cosmology and gravitation. He is considered to be one of the members of the CHP elite.
Party caucus member presents third challenge
“The CHP chairmanship has the potential to change the planet,” CHP Party Caucus member Ilhan Cihaner said in a statement early Thursday, announcing his candidacy.
“We are first willing to change our party and then the world,” he added.
“The role of our party is that of a 'savior and founder.' Because of this role, we have the potential to define the country we live in, in terms of how it does – and doesn't – operate,” Cihaner added, later clarifying his criticism of the current administration of the party.
“Our first criticism is that our party fails to utilize its human resources and its historical abilities to its fullest extent. Also, I would like to emphasize that the ongoing pandemic is an obstacle to realizing our ordinary congress in fruitful and democratic conditions,” he said.
“A congress without the attendance of honorary members and party members will not be able to bring a potential ruling party’s dynamism to our party organization,” Cihaner said, noting that they would nevertheless try their best.
“But still, the duty that lies upon us is to try to bring the conference to fruition in line with its historical importance,” he said.
Cihaner also touched upon two prominent sticking points that have concerned the party administration.
“What will our main political path be? How democratic will our party’s inner workings be? We will try our best to put these questions in perspective in the congress,” he said.
“The CHP needs to stop looking to the past and instead build our future. Our party is needed for peace at home and around the world, for people of all ethnicities, children, women, elderly, disabled, LGBT individuals and for those of all religious beliefs and creeds, for all people of all identities and for all to live together in peace, based upon the principle of secularity, which they need to live equally,” Cihaner said.
Explaining that the CHP continued its struggle with Parliament during the founding of the Republic of Turkey under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Cihaner added that the party caucus should be the strongest institution within the party.
“That being the case, the party caucus should the strongest managing body in the CHP. We need representatives selected by party members, not by the chairman,” he said, criticizing current CHP head Kılıçdaroğlu.
“We need a people’s party, not a chairman’s. We don't need deputies who abide by the decisions taken by the chairman, but a Central Executive Committee and a party caucus where members, delegates and deputies alike contribute to the decision-making processes,” Cihaner added.
“That’s why I’ve become a candidate for chair, as someone who aims to make those principles our party’s bylaws,” he concluded.
Cihaner is a former prosecutor who was once targeted by the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ).
While working as a prosecutor in eastern Erzincan province, he started an investigation against the leader of the terrorist group, Fetullah Gülen, who has been living in a self-imposed exile in the U.S. since 1999.
Angered by the investigation, Gülenists organized a plot against him, and he was arrested while on duty in 2010.
Gülenist prosecutors who plotted against Cihaner and unlawfully sentenced him to four months in prison were later found guilty of being members of FETÖ and were subsequently arrested.