On Friday, Hagia Sophia was opened to mass prayer, with the head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), Ali Erbaş, delivering a sermon with a sword in hand and seemingly damning the country’s founder, Atatürk. While thousands of people called on Diyanet head Ali Erbaş to resign, IYI Party, the People’s Salvation Party (Halkın Kurtuluş Partisi) and the Atatürkist Thought Association (ADD) filed criminal complaints against him.
Yet reactions from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which was founded by Atatürk, remained at a personal level. “You will pay the price for insulting Atatürk!” tweeted CHP MP Özgür Özel. But how and what that price could be remains unclear.
Aside from CHP member İlhan Cihaner, who wanted to place his candidacy against Kılıçdaroğlu but was unsuccessful, there was no word on Hagia Sophia or regarding recent threats against secularism during CHP’s 37th congress, which was held this weekend. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who was once again reelected as the party leader, slammed Ali Erbaş days after, on a weekly party meeting on Tuesday.
As the congress was taking place, writers, academics and thinkers discussed CHP’s policies. Some support Kılıçdaroğlu’s strategy of not directly challenging the AKP-MHP alliance and keeping a low profile, acting very cautiously in order not to get targeted. They believe that the local election victory in 2019 serves as a proof that Kılıçdaroğlu’s strategy is working.
Though the local election victories are important, some left-leaning and democratic voices ridicule CHP’s passivity and its shift to the center-right. The CHP must actively oppose the policies of the AKP-MHP coalition. After all, Kılıçdaroğlu’s support to lift parliamentary immunities led the jailing of hundreds of politicians, including Selahattin Demirtaş. CHP also supported all of the government’s recent military operations.
So what is CHP’s policy? This time around, the CHP congress was held under the motto “Hedef iktidar” which translates as: “The target is political power/governance”. In Turkish, “iktidar” means potency, virility, ability and government, but it is widely used to refer to the ruling party and the state.
Though CHP claims it will come to power in the next elections, the reality is that it has long served as no more than the country’s second most popular party. For the past decade, which saw Kılıçdaroğlu lead the party, CHP usually garnered around 22 percent of the votes, its record being 25 percent of the votes. Recent polls show that this has not changed.
Kılıçdaroğlu himself knows that his party cannot come to power alone. That is why he is seeking to balance other opposition parties, including two newly founded parties, which are led by two ex-AKP figures. Mathematically, all opposition parties need to join forces if they want to win or gain more power in the next elections. But does that imply that the CHP needs to woo right wing, conservative voters and refrain from openly joining forces with the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), like it had in the past?
But wait. Will there even be an election? Kılıçdaroğlu himself uttered these words on Tuesday: “Nobody should feel hopeless, the days ahead are bright. As long as they (the AKP) puts out the ballot box. I’m not sure they will. If they are courageous, they will.”
Though he wants to come to power, the main opposition leader does not even know if there will be an election. He insists the days ahead are bright while the AKP-MHP government twists and undermines the few remaining freedoms and rights that prevail in this country: from gender equality to social media. What is more, it is taking over municipalities one by one, discarding every value the Turkish Republic once stood for, and has even started discussing the return of the caliphate.
Meanwhile, Osman Kavala has been in prison for 1,003 days.