politics : culture : economics

Kılıçdaroğlu and the ‘pious’ vote

In Turkey on June 7, 2010 at 3:19 pm

I’ll come back to this in more detail at a later date, but for the moment I want to note something that the new CHP leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, is quoted as having said over the weekend:

The CHP should certainly ensure lasting peace with pious people. We will do our best to realize that

This could mean all kinds of things and it could mean nothing. But there’s the kernel there of a policy shift that could change things greatly.

In recent years, CHP ceded the political centre ground to the governing AKP. CHP’s narrow focus on the government’s threat to the secular order (not to mention the huge political energy consumed by Deniz Baykal’s limpet-like grip on the leadership) left the AKP government free to present itself as the only game in town when it came to bread and butter issues like the economy, education and so on.

Mr Kılıçdaroğlu’s election as party leader has already given the opposition a fillip and no matter what he does he will revive votes that had withered in Mr Baykal’s shade. But at some stage someone will have to try to break the mould of Turkey’s secular political tradition the way that prime minister Erdoğan broke the mould of his more religious tradition. Time will tell whether Mr Kılıçdaroğlu might be that person. But it would be nice to think that his quote in the generally pro-government Today’s Zaman newspaper might have been a flag being flown to see what kind of reception moves in this direction might elicit.

What might a game-changing move from here look like? How about noises from the CHP leadership suggesting it would countenance a removal of the headscarf ban? A CHP that went to the electorate arguing that the roots of Turkish secularism are strong enough, that the citizens of Turkey are trust-worthy enough, for the state to start to withdraw from decisions about the clothes that people wear—flotillas notwithstanding, that kind of CHP would give Mr Erdoğan and his party a run for their money like they haven’t seen before.

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