CHP Istanbul congress deals huge blow to party status quo as 'revisionist' candidate gets elected

Turkish main opposition CHP Istanbul organization has elected “revisionist” candidate Özgür Çelik as its chair, whom Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu supported, replacing de facto chair Canan Kaftancıoğlu. In his speech, the party management’s candidate Cemal Canpolat accused İmamoğlu of recruiting CHP delegates in the municipality “just to vote for you.”

CHP's new Istanbul chair Özgür Çelik

Can Bursalı / Gazete Duvar

The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) on Oct. 8 elected “revisionist” candidate Özgür Çelik as its Istanbul provincial chair, who defeated “status quo” candidate Cemal Canpolat with 342 votes against 310.

CHP Bahçelievler district chair Çelik replaced de facto chair Canan Kaftancıoğlu, who was imposed upon four years and 11 months jail sentence and political ban on charges of “insulting a public official,” “explicitly degrading the Turkish Republic” and "insulting the president."

CHP's Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (İBB) Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, who has been demanding radical change within the party, was known for supporting Çelik, whereas the party management was backing Canpolat who was the CHP Istanbul chair between 2015 and 2018.

The provincial congress was held in Haliç Congress Center, starting at 8 a.m. local time and lasting for more than 17 hours.

The congress was important for the future of the party as the outcome dealt a huge blow to the party’s management. 

Kaftancıoğlu was one of the first to take the stage at the congress, calling on the delegates to listen to all candidates. A group booed Kaftancıoğlu, who was known for having a rift with İmamoğlu.

İmamoğlu also took the stage, saying it is “never right to interpret criticism of the party management as an attack.”

“Our first duty is to achieve a new victory across Turkey in the local elections in March 2024. It is to win many more municipalities all over our country. Then we win the Presidency in 2028. We are achieving much greater success in the 2029 local elections. This is our goal,” he added.

CHP leader candidates Örsan Öymen and İlhan Cihaner, lawmaker Sezgin Tanrıkulu, CHP deputy chair Hasan Efe Uyar, group deputy chair Gökhan Günaydın also took the stage.

“Status quo” candidate Canpolat did not include İmamoğlu in his list despite the common practice in the CHP was including the mayor of the province where the congress was held in the list of all candidates.

Towards the evening, Özgür Çelik took the stage, saying the 2023 elections created a disappointment in their electorates. “We must embrace millions by giving self-criticism. I see this congress as a historical turning point.”

“We will strengthen our organizational structure. We will directly contact two million voters in the first six months. Our primary contact groups will be housewives who are most affected by the economic crisis, resentful voters, voters who are angry with the government due to economic destruction, and poor neighborhoods,” he added.

Çelik also said, "Our fight is not with our own companions, our fight is with this corrupt order, with the authoritarian oppressive government, with those who filed fabricated cases against our chair (Kılıçdaroğlu), with those who banned our provincial chair, Kaftancıoğlu, from politics, with those who tried to impose a political ban on our Metropolitan Municipality Mayor (İmamoğlu).”

After Çelik, Canpolat took the stage and criticized those who demanded change within the party following the electoral loss.

“This party cannot accept that those who are waiting to become ministers come forward four days later (after the elections, demanding) change, without giving CHP the opportunity to activate its self-criticism mechanism,” he said.

Canpolat also accused İmamoğlu of recruiting CHP delegates “just to vote for you.”  

“I can't stand CHP members getting jobs through other parties. Dear delegates, the period of resigning from CHP and getting a job through the İYİ Party will end as of Sunday,” he said as his remarks were shared by some Justice and Development Party (AKP) figures to criticize İmamoğlu.

“We will not let Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu down, we will make the change with Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu,” he added.

“Revisionist” candidate won the election by receiving 342 votes whereas Canpolat stayed at 310.

Canpolat have yet congratulated Çelik following the outcome. 

In a tweet, İmamoğlu congratulated Çelik and said not only a young and successful party worker and his team won but also political maturity, civility and inclusiveness.

CHP leader candidate Özgür Özel said “Youth won, hope won. We will win Istanbul again. We will win in Turkey.”

Kaftancıoğlu also congratulated Çelik and his team members, and said she “wishes them endless success in their duties. Once again, I would like to thank our previous provincial chair, Cemal Canpolat, and our Istanbul organization, which has shown its difference in democratic competition and maturity.”

196 of the 1200 congress delegates will come from Istanbul for the party’s general congress to be held on Nov. 4-5, having a significant weight.

Istanbul also will be the most critical metropolitan municipality for both the government and the opposition in the 2024 local elections as the former will try to win it back from the latter.

Kılıçdaroğlu lost the presidential election against Recep Tayyip Erdoğan by receiving 47.82 percent of the votes in the second round of the race on May 28.

Aside from the presidential election, the CHP received 25.41 percent of the votes in the May 14 parliamentary elections, falling short of expectations. The CHP leader has not resigned from his post, saying that he did not consider the election results as "defeat."

Kılıçdaroğlu has not announced his candidacy for re-election as the CHP leader yet, saying that “I will not be a candidate. I have never been a candidate before. I have never submitted a petition. The party organization nominated me.”

The electoral defeat increased the demand for change in party leadership and management.

(English version by Alperen Şen)