CHP and SHP: Transcending Politics in the post-1980 Era

This week at MASA, we hosted Murat Karayalçın, one of Turkey’s significant post-1980 period politicians. We see Mr. Karayalçın’s experience as chairman of the former SHP as key to make sense of the CHP today and to analyze the political atmosphere that we can still describe as the post-1980 period. Based on the statements of Mr. Karayalçın, we are aware that the SHP era holds significant lessons for today’s CHP. Indeed, it is quite apt to conduct a comparative study of the CHP and SHP, which have a great deal of overlap between their elite sociologies, ideologies, and political positions.

Within the context of our discussion, we find Mr. Karayalçın’s comments on Kurdish politics of paramount consequence. Mr. Karayalçın notes the SHP’s promulgation of a report on the Kurdish Question – a bold and even revanchist step for that period – thus creating a major milestone within the context of Kurdish and Turkish politics. The current CHP administration’s stance on the Kurdish Question is directly linked to the motivations for the emergence of this report. Moreover, Karayalçın underlines the importance of including the Kurds in the social democratic political tradition, of which the CHP remains the undeniable standard bearer. We reiterate the gravity of Kurdish politics not only for the CHP, but also for all parties in the mainstream in Turkey.

As Mr. Karayalçın drew a framework on the famous Kurdish report and the positioning of the Kurds in the SHP, he presented an opportunity to infer on parameters of politics carried out under the CHP. The CHP’s political identity is based on three main ideological currents. These are Republicanism, international democratic socialism and the “Anatolian Enlightenment Movement”. Although the consolidation of both the party identity and the electorate by a CHP drawn by these parameters is a normal and easy process under normal conditions this is not always the case. An ideological and practical problem emerges when the CHP deviates from these norms, a maxim that remains true by virtue of several instances of this playing out.

While the CHP is a party that can be successful when it acts within a broad but clear ideological framework, it relinquishes this success when it adopts the style of classic “big tent” center-right parties. The fact that Kurdish politics was carried out within the SHP before 1991, as Mr. Karayalçın mentioned, can be regarded as an example of these successes. However, the CHP seems to have preferred a more flexible ideological policy, particularly in the latest electoral cycles, in lieu of ideological clarity, and its lack of gains on the political scene reflect this shift.

It is likely that this ideological problem will become evident in the politics carried out under the “Table of Six” format. The political elites of the CHP have long engaged in a “politics of mimicking” against the AK Party and Erdogan. What we mean by this is the CHP’s strategy of attempting electoral success through political programs and actors akin to the AK Party’s political style and ideology. This strategy has been evident since the 2014 Presidential Elections.

However, we do not feel that the CHP can achieve success by incorporating the style of the AK Party. Indeed, this strategy has largely failed, apart from certain political actors. Setting the 2019 Local Elections aside, we have not seen any tangible results that have been attained through this policy. Furthermore, we feel the the lack of ideological coherence is harming the CHP. In a party where ideological cohesion is valuable and political culture is built on experience and tradition, we feel the need to assert that imitation with short-term political gains in mind is not the correct course of action.

It is obvious that the CHP’s intricate relationship with political parties, such as DEVA and the Future Party, that broke away from the AK Party and are now positioned in the opposition wing, and its attempts to branch out to the right of politics and to nationalists before this, have failed. On the contrary, when the CHP remained loyal to its ideological foundations and presented a rational and critical ideological lens of post-1980 politics, their success increased at the level of representation and the party became more consolidated internally in the face of shocks.

Instead of similar mass parties, Turkish politics urgently needs parties with clear ideological clarity, which can in turn appeal to different sociologies and classes, reinforcing a truly pluralistic political system. The CHP is poised to do this with its experience in the institutionalization of the state and its ideological transformations in the post-1980 period.

Batu Coşkun hakkında 13 makale
After graduating from Bilkent University, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, he completed his master's degree in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics.

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