Country Report Turkey January 2011

The political scene: Congress consolidates Kemal Kilicdaroglu's party leadership

With the next general election just a little over six months away, Turkey's main opposition party, the hardline secularist/nationalist Republican People's Party (CHP), faces a tough challenge to close the gap on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in opinion polls. The level of support for the AKP has varied in recent polls between 35% and 45% of the vote, depending on the pollster, but the CHP consistently obtains 30%, with the smaller right-wing opposition party, the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), on 10-15%. This would be a considerable improvement for the CHP compared with the 2007 general election, when the party obtained around 20% of the vote. However, it might not be sufficient to prevent the AKP from winning an overall majority if only three parties clear the 10% threshold for parliamentary representation.

Under the leadership of Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who was elected in May 2010 following the resignation of Deniz Baykal over a sex tape scandal, the CHP is seeking to renew its policy agenda and broaden its appeal. However, the push for change within the party has met with staunch resistance from the old guard, forcing Mr Kilicdaroglu to hold an extraordinary party congress on December 18th-19th. The congress was called to elect a new executive body in an attempt to put an end to a power struggle between Mr Kilicdaroglu and the former secretary-general, Onder Sav, who until his recent removal from the position controlled the party from behind the scenes. In the event, delegates elected many of the candidates put forward by Mr Kilicdaroglu, helping to strengthen his hand against Mr Sav and end the uncertainty over whether he would lead the party at the next general election.

Following the congress, an emboldened Mr Kilicdaroglu said that if elected to government, his goal was to "return to a welfare state" that would end unemployment, implement universal healthcare and tackle poverty, although he failed to explain where the funding for such spending plans would come from, given that indirect taxes are already high and tax evasion is widespread. Mr Kilicdaroglu is likely to promote a more liberal position than his predecessor on several issues such as minority rights and attempts to lift the ban on women wearing the Islamic-style headscarf in universities and public offices, as well as a tough stance against corruption at the level of state institutions.

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