At the weekend, in the early hours of November 5, the annual congress of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) delivered a big surprise when, after 13 years, the party ousted its leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu and installed Ozgur Ozel in his place.
The move was surprising, given Turkey’s infamous “political parties law”. The legislation, introduced by the 1980 coup regime, creates little dictators within the political parties.
The law means that the parties’ sources of finance lack any real transparency. Money, both grey and black, talks. When someone becomes a party leader, it later proves impossible to remove them from their post because they have the right to choose which party members can vote in intraparty elections.
In Turkish politics, Kemal Kilicdaroglu became something of a legendary loser.
To elect a party chair, party members first vote for neighbourhood delegates. Then, the neighbourhood delegates vote for town/district delegates. The town/district delegates then vote for provincial delegates. It is the provincial delegates who get to vote at the congress to elect the party leader.
If the incumbent party chair can not attract 50% plus one vote in the first round of the leadership poll, a second round is held.
During this long process, amounting to five steps, an incumbent who does not want to lose his place at the helm is able to use dictatorial powers to influence delegates.
Kilicdaroglu reportedly turned to his powers as leader to influence delegates.
Thus, the CHP’s fired leader, Kilicdaroglu, has achieved the impossible by losing the leadership election. His opponents had only seen success in elections for Istanbul province. Yet, it seems that they managed to convince enough delegates during the congress to switch their vote.
However, a video that shows Kilicdaroglu meeting with some lickspittles following the first round of voting for the party chair at the congress, has fuelled speculation as to whether Kilicdaroglu experienced some decisive pressure exerted by some mysterious characters in the shadows to not only run in the last presidential election, held in May, but to bid to retain the party leadership.
Video: A man named Imambakir Ukus (no one knows who this man is or how he can give orders to the party chair, while it is also said that he was present in the meeting where Kilicdaroglu signed some secret and controversial agreements with a marginal far-right party, namely Zafer, following the first round of the May presidential election) yells at Kilicdaroglu: “No, no, no. I won't allow you to withdraw from the second round”.
In the elections for head of the CHP, 1,368 delegates were eligible to vote. In the first round of voting, 1,366 ballots were cast. A candidate had to win a majority adding up to 684 votes in the first round to claim the prize without any need for a second round.
Eighteen votes were called as invalid and two ballots were left blank. Ozel attracted 682 votes versus Kilicdaroglu’s 664. If the 20 invalid and blank votes had been awarded to Kilicdaroglu, this story of his downfall would not have been written.
Table: Results of the CHP leadership election.
Local reports maintain that after it became clear to Kilicdaroglu that Ozel would win in the second round, he attempted to withdraw from the contest. However, as things turned out, he did not. That turn of events led to the intense interest in the video.
Kilicdaroglu missed many chances to leave an honourable legacy behind. He will be remembered as the man who rather passively stood and watched the collapse of his country, all the while making big efforts until the last minute to survive in his post.
So what of Ozel. We have an old face but a new man as the main opposition leader.
Ozel is a professional politician. He makes his living from politics. An MP since 2011, from 2015 he served as Kilicdaroglu’s deputy parliamentary group leader, representing the party chair in parliament.
He has long been among Kilicdaroglu’s ass-kissers, and Kilicdaroglu reminded delegates of that pertinent fact during his speech at the congress.
Kilicdaroglu basically told Ozel that he played the lackey while as party leader he took the decisions that Ozel is only criticising now.
Although Ozel is not yet winning any rave reviews, and doesn't appear to have the heft that might lead to some in the future, the CHP has at least, despite the political parties law, managed to change its leader against the will of the leader (albeit, as indicated above by the Ukus affair, there are big questions as to how events played out).
As is traditional with new party leaders in Turkish politics, Ozel has promised to change the party by-law that provides dictatorial powers to the party chair.
Over the years, Turkish politicians have become renowned for both pledging to scrap the higher education council (YOK, introduced by the 1980 coup regime to kill academic freedom at universities) and promising to change the political parties law. YOK and the political parties law remain very much in force.
Ozel is relatively young for a party leader, just 49 years-old. He speaks very loudly. Sometimes it seems he is yelling. But he is saying nothing. He has modest origins. Before committing to politics, he was a small merchant (pharmacist shop) and a salesman (medicines dealer). So, he has all the qualifications one expects of a politician.
“If the CHP changes, so will Turkey,” was the slogan of Kilicdaroglu’s opponents. And, they're damn right. If the CHP defied all expectations and really managed to scrap the by-law and become a democratic party, it would amount to a real revolution for Turkey.
In any case, Kilicdaroglu’s trashy types will be replaced with some new names. And, the new momentum has to be, in any event, better than inertia.
Ozel has promised that the CHP's Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu will be his candidate in the next presidential elections, scheduled for 2028.
Five years is a very, very long time in politics. And, given Turkey’s fast and ongoing descent into the chasm, it is questionable whether there will be a country to lead in five years' time.
At the end of March, Turkey is to hold local elections. The opposition voters, who have suffered an unbroken sequence of episodes of disillusion across the last decade, are not excited by Ozel’s old face.
Imamoglu is getting ready to run for re-election in Istanbul. If he and his new party chair manage to gather the "coalition impossible", which in 2019 for Imamoglu's victory brought together everyone across the spectrum of opposition politics from the Turkists to the Kurdists, then once again they will be credited with pulling off an unlikely feat.
Under Kilicdaroglu, the opposition were heading for a guaranteed beating in the local elections. Now, at least, the opposition has some hope.
|Table: Population of Turkish cities as of 2022|
|Istanbul||15 907 951|
|Ankara||5 782 285|
|Izmir||4 462 056|
|Bursa||3 194 720|
|Antalya||2 688 004|
|Konya||2 296 347|
|Adana||2 274 106|
|Sanliurfa||2 170 110|
|Gaziantep||2 154 051|
|Kocaeli||2 079 072|
|Top 10 total||43 008 702|
|Turkey total||85 279 553|
Table: Turkish cities by population.
A reasonable view anticipates that the CHP's Ankara mayor Mansur Yavas will hold on to his post. Izmir amounts to CHP private-registered land. Adana's Zeydan Karalar could also hold on to his job as mayor.
Bursa, Konya, Urfa, Antep and Kocaeli will remain in the hands of the Erdogan regime. Antalya, currently held by the CHP, always swings.
In the local elections, the "thievery margin" is not big enough. The real thievery in a general election turns on actions taken in rural areas. The regime claims it attracted 100% of the vote in a village. Go there and verify it, if you don't believe it.
The ballot boxes not scrutinised by the opposition represent around 30 percentage points in the election outcome. Regime operatives distribute them as they wish. And the end result is always 52% for the regime.
The opposition would need around a million men (Yes, men. The regime’s paramilitary forces use physical violence and guns. Opposition observers at polling stations can be shot dead or beaten) to defend every single ballot box across the country. It is doable. But Kilicdaroglu did not put any such plan into action and was, in the end, easily defeated in the election.
All in all, as things stand, Turkey has no confirmed hope, but it does now have some motion. If the new main opposition party leader manages to perform effectively rather than waiting for 2028, something might change.
Nasreddin Hodja, an infamous 13th-century Turkish humourist, told a story about a situation such as this. He tells of a donkey that he does not provide with enough food or shelter during the snowy winter months, but he always offers a promise: “Don’t die my donkey, don’t die. The summer is coming...”