Yesterday’s appointment of Gürsel Tekin to the opposition CHP’s central executive board (MYK) is a potentially significant step in the party’s attempt to revive itself under the leadership of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. The two men are close allies, Mr Tekin having played a crucial role in Mr Kılıçdaroğlu’s mayoral campaign in Istanbul earlier this year. His elevation within the party (Mr Tekin is now expected to become the party’s deputy chairman) augurs well for Mr Kılıçdaroğlu’s chances of consolidating his position and using it to drive through necessary changes that may not be instantly popular with party members and officials after years of jaded dogmatism from previous leader, Deniz Baykal.
That Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s understanding of where his party needs to be on Turkey’s political spectrum differs sharply from Mr Baykal’s is not in doubt. That he will be strong enough to move the party from A to B is less certain. In his early months in office, Mr Kılıçdaroğlu has zig-zagged confusingly on a number of occasions. Space has been created for the impression to emerge that he either does not know his mind or cannot bend his party to his will. If either of those perceptions were to take root, Mr Kılıçdaroğlu’s chances of survival, let alone success, would be greatly hampered.
Opposition parties, for obvious reasons, have much greater freedom than their governing counterparts to adopt, adapt or jettison policies according to their needs. But there are limits to this kind of flexibility in terms of sustaining political credibility. One of Mr Kılıçdaroğlu’s problems at the moment appears to be the difficulty of steering a policy course that will take him close enough to the political centre to win (or recapture) an increased share of the popular vote, without straying so far from the CHP’s Baykal-era comfort zone that he undermines his position within the party.
It is here that the elevation of Gürsel Tekin within the party is potentially significant. First, the mere fact of his appointment sends an important signal that Mr Kılıçdaroğlu’s people are taking up positions in the higher echelons of the party. The CHP is more firmly Mr Kılıçdaroğlu’s party than it was at the start of this week. This is all the more true given that Mr Tekin’s appointment to the MYK had previously been blocked.
Second, and more importantly, this symbolic significance is matched by more concrete considerations of political effectiveness. Mr Tekin’s appointment begins the process of reconstituting a team that worked together extremely successfully in March’s mayoral elections. (Mr Kılıçdaroğlu may not have become Istanbul’s mayor, but his campaign marked him out as a potential leader for the party in the then-unlikely event that Mr Baykal would fall under a political bus.)
It’s precisely this kind of team that Mr Kılıçdaroğlu needs around him at the moment, to prevent him being buffeted by the government, by events, or by personalities within his own party. I would be surprised if Mr Kılıçdaroğlu doesn’t now start to exercise more sensible control over the countless demands that are made on a party leader’s time. I would also be surprised if Mr Tekin’s appointment doesn’t lead in time to internal procedures being put in place to reduce sharply the kind of policy wobbles that have characterised Mr Kılıçdaroğlu’s first months at the helm.
For all the dramas of the past few months and years, the replacement of Deniz Baykal by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is one of the most potentially important political developments of this period. It’s an experiment that may fall flat on its face. (Don’t underestimate the extent to which elements of the CHP have departed from a rational consideration of the party’s political options and their electoral consequences.) But it marks a return for Turkey to the sorely missed position of having an opposition with at least one foot in the real-world political life of this country. Insofar as Mr Tekin’s rise in the CHP strengthens Mr Kılıçdaroğlu’s position and increases his chances of re-building his party on a more electable footing, it is to be welcomed.