Turkey's main opposition plays secular card

A strong candidate to remain Turkey"s second party after general elections Sunday, the traditionally social democrat Republican People"s Party faces accusations of slipping further to the right, but is counting on its strong secular roots to sway the vote

Turkey's main opposition plays secular card
A strong candidate to remain Turkey"s second party after general elections Sunday, the traditionally social democrat Republican People"s Party faces accusations of slipping further to the right, but is counting on its strong secular roots to sway the vote.

As the legacy of Turkey"s founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the CHP party believes its votes can only have increased in the secularist wave that followed the botched presidential election whose outcome some feared would increase the influence of religion in Turkey.

The country plunged into turmoil in April when Justice and Development Party (AKP) tried to install its candidate to the presidency and the CHP-led opposition boycotted the vote in parliament to prevent it.

The crisis was heightened when the military issued a stiff warning that it was ready to defend this mainly Muslim country"s secular order, and Turks demonstrated across the country against an AKP president.

The CHP forced the cancellation of the presidential election through legal action before the constitutional court, giving Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan no choice but to bring legislative elections forward to July 22.

After striking an electoral alliance with the small Democratic Left Party, the CHP now hopes to ride to power, or at least gain enough seats to become a coalition partner.

According to the latest polls, the CHP could garner 20 to 25 percent of the vote on Sunday, compared to 19 percent in 2002, and become a candidate to form the next government if the AKP fails to obtain an absolute majority.

Over the past 20 years, Turkey"s traditionally conservative electorate has voted in centre-right parties, which faced no real challenge from the fractured left.

Hoping that the recent political crisis has turned the tide, the CHP sees itself as a counter-balance to the AKP, which it accuses of maintaining an Islamist agenda despite pledges to the contrary and seeking to undermine Turkey"s secular order.

The CHP says religion should remain a private and not a public matter, but some intellectuals criticize the CHP"s ideology as acceptable only to a secular elite comprising the bureaucracy, army, judiciary and academics in a country that is 99 percent Muslim.

The CHP is also under fire for its increasingly nationalist tone.

"I tell everyone I know, in all seriousness, that if they are thinking of voting for the CHP, they would in fact be better off voting for the MHP", the far-right Nationalist Action Party, said Baskin Oran, a retired academic running as an independent from Istanbul.

Oran, whose father was a CHP lawmaker in the 1950s, said the party"s raison d"etre had become to demonise the AKP, giving it a harsh, nationalist, anti-pluralist tone, especially vis-a-vis the Kurdish community.

The CHP defends a controversial penal code article the European Union says restricts freedom of speech, and has strongly opposed a bill granting wider property rights to the non-Muslim community.

Murat Belge, a leading left-wing intellectual, was even more criticial than Oran.

"In today"s atmosphere, it is difficult and inappropriate for a leftist to vote for the CHP rather than the AKP, because every vote cast for the CHP is a vote cast for fascism," he wrote recently in the liberal daily Radikal.

"Of all the existing parties," he wrote, "none appears closer to a civil democracy than the AKP."

Critics say part of the responsibility for the CHP"s authoritarian tone lies with its leader, Deniz Baykal, a 69-year-old veteran of the left, and his aides who, they say, tolerate no opposition within party ranks.

"The criticism comes only from turncoats who abandoned leftist ideology and joined the ranks of globalisation. The CHP is a leftist party and it exists to help people as a leftist party should," said Yilmaz Atas, a former journalist seeking a third mandate on the CHP ticket.

"The defence of national interests is one of the pillars of leftist ideology," he added.

AFP

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Temmuz 2007, 10:01
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