Turkey’s opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has been spending almost all weekends in Istanbul, but when he went there after the Ramadan Eid, the situation was not very bright for CHP. The trial of the Gezi Protests resulted in Osman Kavala being sentenced to life imprisonment and 7 of his friends in prison for 18 years, and the government targeted the reactions from the CHP. Istanbul Metropolitan Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu’s Eastern Black Sea tour, which achieved its political goal, turned into a media disaster, leaving not only the CHP but also the opposition’s six-party table in a difficult position. When the Supreme Court upheld the 4 years and 11 months prison sentence for Istanbul Provincial Chairperson Canan Kaftancıoğlu for insulting President Tayyip Erdoğan, it was the last straw.
Kılıçdaroğlu gathered not only the parliamentary members but almost the entire CHP cadres to Istanbul. Siding with İmamoğlu and Kaftancıoğlu, he changed the venue of the rally planned to be held in Bursa on May 21 with CHP’s Nation Alliance partner İYİ Party leader Meral Akşener to Istanbul. Besides, Akşener was the first politician to react harshly to the Supreme Court’s decision on imprisonment and a political ban on Kaftancıoğlu, apart from CHP members. Kılıçdaroğlu was calling on the CHP to take up the challenge of the 2023 election fight from Istanbul.
SADAT, election security
The next day, on May 13, the CHP leader came to the door of the private security company SADAT, which pretended to be the AK Party’s special forces, without informing the deputies and the press, except for a few people. He accused SADAT and President Tayyip Erdoğan’s former Chief Security Advisor of raising terrorists and engaging in activities that threaten election security. It was an unexpected move. Kılıçdaroğlu told Orhan Bursalı from Cumhuriyet newspaper that SADAT acted on Erdogan’s instructions and that “they can do what they do abroad, at home.” In the same interview, he emphasized that CHP would not allow veiled threats that cause frustration within voters that would evade polls thinking “even if I vote nothing will change, because there is no election security.”
The interesting thing is that the Kurdish issue-focused Democratic People’s Party’s (HDP) former co-chairman, Selahattin Demirtaş, in the letter he sent to journalists and opinion leaders from Edirne prison the day before, suggested that the opposition should at least cooperate on election security. It did not go unnoticed that Kılıçdaroğlu, together with İmamoğlu and Kaftancıoğlu, sent his condolences to HDP co-chairman Mithat Sancar, whose mother passed away.
The biggest aid in bringing the CHP together
Kılıçdaroğlu’s response to the circles accusing the CHP of axis shifting was his visit to the Gezi Protest prisoners’ families on May 15. Again, İmamoğlu and Kaftancıoğlu were with him. His message was “We stand with those who pay the price”.
Kılıçdaroğlu’s ending the week with a message he posted on Twitter on Sunday night was also in response to those who accused him of pulling the CHP to the right. CHP leader cited left-wing newspaper BirGün to condemn AK Party’s Izmit Derince Municipality for their ban on Kurdish singer Aynur Doğan concert on the grounds that they did not get permission on time.
“It would suit them very much if they bring in a Constitutional amendment that prohibits entertainment,” he said ending his message with a reference to Aynur Doğan’s popular song.
“Dar Hejîrokê (You’re a Fig Tree) good for the night” (Those who want to listen can click this link.)
Undoubtedly, one of Kılıçdaroğlu’s biggest assistants in gathering the CHP is the consecutive banning decisions from both the administration and the judiciary. As the bans increase, the reactions also increase. Kılıçdaroğlu’s claim to Bursalı in not allowing the AK Party to create intimidation and frustration among the opposition voters, and Kaftancıoğlu’s goal of “organizing hope” can be seen in this context.
Battle of Istanbul
It can be said that the approval of Kaftancıoğlu’s prison sentence and political ban brought the CHP around. For this, Kılıçdaroğlu had to shake the organization. Names who have not been able to come together, acting like a party within the party, are now appearing in the same frame with Kılıçdaroğlu, and those who cannot are trying to get into that photo. Before the Kaftancıoğlu incident, Kılıçdaroğlu, who had to say “Whoever does not stand by me, get out of my way”, strengthened his word within the party with the Istanbul move.
Don’t misunderstand my word battle, we’re talking about the 2023 election. The rally planned in Maltepe on May 21 shows that the main stage of the election race will be Istanbul. About one-fifth of the population and voters are in Istanbul. In terms of numbers, the highest number of conservative, left-wing, libertarian voters, Kurdish, Black Sea, Balkan and Circassian voters are in Istanbul. Istanbul is a small model of Turkey.
Erdogan is already aware of this. Now we see both the CHP and the IYI Party, in this struggle. In fact, the Presidential election seems to be an election for the government to take back Istanbul and for the opposition it is to keep it.