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After Election Defeat, Turkey’s Main Opposition Faces Leadership Struggle

It only took a week for cracks to be opened within Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) after June 24 elections, which ushered in a new era for Turkey and plunged the opposition into a state of disarray as their hard-won election alliance crumbled this week.

Failing to live up to expectations, the CHP has found itself in the midst of an intra-party squabble in the aftermath of the election. Presidential candidate Muharrem Ince called for a new party congress to decide the future of the party, only to face swift rebuke from party stalwarts and the leadership.

CHP Chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu snubbed him for divulging details of their private meeting with media this week. A full-blown leadership struggle came to public view amid emerging fissures and divisions within the party.

CHP spokesperson Bulent Tezcan said the party is consumed with debates playing out in media regarding a new possible congress. In the latest contest this February, Kilicdaroglu preserved his post against Ince who challenged the CHP leader’s longstanding grip over the party.

“What we are observing right now is a power struggle within the CHP but this struggle is certainly a useless political game as a regime change has already taken place in Turkey after the June 24th “elections,”” said Kemal Silay, Professor of Turkish Studies at the School of Global and International Studies in Indiana University.

“My prediction is that Mr. Erdogan will run the country as he sees fit for the rest of his life with no other mechanism to exert checks upon his decisions,” Professor Silay told Globe Post Turkey

“All other political parties and a symbolic parliament will still exist but Mr. Erdogan will make their existence simply irrelevant through his already established Sultanic decrees,” he said, offering a bleak assessment of the future of the political affairs in Turkey.

On Wednesday, Turkey’s Supreme Election Council (YSK) released official results. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the presidential election with 52.59 percent of the votes, garnering more than 26 million votes against his main contender Ince.

The CHP candidate received only 30.64 percent of the entire votes after an inspiring and eye-catching campaign period. According to many observers, Ince quite well performed both on his campaign trail and at the ballot box, expanding the traditional reach of CHP well beyond 25 percent, the usual figures that the main opposition party normally gets. Parliamentary elections revealed a glaringly dismal picture for the CHP, which saw its votes declined to 22.64 percent.

But the opposition parties’ and CHP’s expectation for a runoff in the presidential contest found to be misplaced, with Erdogan securing the vote in the first round, thanks to an alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The electoral alliance forged by the opposition parties, on the other hand, came to a dramatic end this week.

What defines the nature of the recent rift within the CHP is the gap between Ince’s higher performance than the party. A number of lawmakers were quick to call the resignation of incumbent CHP leader Kilicdaroglu after another poor performance in an election.

Lawmaker Eren Erdem was one of the first figures to address the discrepancy regarding Ince’s personal success at the partial level, and the CHP’s underperforming in parliamentary elections.

“My take on the situation within the CHP is that the conflict is between the established “old guard” of the party–the traditional Kemalists–and a newer, perhaps younger cohort who wants more dynamism and a more coherent approach to opposition to the AKP and Erdogan,” said Kim Shively, Professor of Anthropology in Kutztown University.

She thinks that Kilicdaroglu has lacked charisma and has not led a very effective opposition (the CHP’s share of the vote has fallen, not risen over the 8-year period of his leadership). 

“I think many CHP members would like someone new and someone with the charisma and political instincts of Ince,” she told Globe Post Turkey, reflecting an emerging consensus about the wide reception of Ince as an energetic politician who can fire up the party base.

As the party devolved into an intra-party squabble, Ince moved to play down the rancor of the recent days. “There is no fight, but winds of change,” he said on Friday.

Ince succeeded to invigorate his party base and drew millions of people in the western province of Izmir and Istanbul in the last days of his campaign. Still, his prospects and future are not free of challenges or scars after an election night debacle when he refused to appear in front of cameras to concede the defeat at a press conference.

His retreat and long disappearance, unprecedented in the tradition of Turkey’s elections, generated controversy and created a buzz in social media about his whereabouts. His late repudiation of the claims that he faced threats from Erdogan only aroused further suspicion.

The new executive presidential system will take effect next week, with President Erdogan, the strongest figure in modern history since Ataturk, preparing to swear in a ceremony. In the new system, Parliament has no longer an efficient capacity or power to keep a check on the presidential office.

And the CHP, the largest opposition party in Parliament, appears to be in disarray, with leadership struggle on full display. It remains to be seen how the party would weather the latest disorder and intra-party rift.

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