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The following article appeared as Ýsmet Berkan’s regular column in the daily Radikal on 11 May 2010. Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton.

Is there life after Baykal?

Ýsmet Berkan

I must confess that I did not expect Deniz Baykal to resign.

Those Republican People’s Party (CHP) members who entered the salon in a spirit of solidarity with their chairman clearly also did not expect this and, when he said, “I resign,” there was uproar in the salon followed by tears.

There is debate as to whether Baykal’s resignation was sincere or not, and whether he has really stepped down as party chairman or will return.

This is normal.

The CHP of today is in every way Deniz Baykal’s party. It is virtually his own property. He resigned after falling short of the threshold in the 1999 election. There was great hope as Altan Öymen became party chairman and Tarhan Erdem general secretary and they attempted to restructure the party from top to bottom. Had they succeeded we would probably today be living in a very different country.

But they didn’t, because at the last minute Baykal decided to return and he returned along with delegates and a Party Assembly that in any case was under his control.

Until yesterday.

The CHP of today without Baykal would end up, to use an unflattering simile, like a headless chicken. And this is just how it ended up yesterday.

A CHP without Baykal neither knows in which direction it may move, nor what to do or say.

In twelve days there is a CHP Congress. Virtually all of the Congress delegates were proposed by Baykal himself or his people.

Those delegates may, if Baykal consents, re-elect him as party chairman; this possibility is already being discussed by the remaining unaligned CHP members.

Should Baykal decline to become party chairman, it will nevertheless be up to Baykal who becomes party chairman and the extent to which that person may act unimpeded as party secretary.

Let nobody be deceived. Whomever Baykal chooses, they will have less standing than Baykal. They will be unable to take the party forward and bring about the desired and expected innovation, rejuvenation and freeing up.

The question is thus whether the CHP has any life after Baykal.

I am not easily able to answer that question by saying, “It certainly does."

***

If you ask me, Baykal is engaging in a very interesting short-term political strategy. It would appear that his aim is to embroil the entire Ak Party, including Prime-Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan, in the controversy and to get them to accuse him of ‘immorality’.

And it would appear that Prime-Minister Recep Erdoðan has fallen into this trap on the very first day. Baykal will in a flash say that those who are exploiting this footage of him for political advantage are those who "staged a conspiracy" against him.

In fact, if the Prime-Minister were to address the side of the issue, without going into the contents of the footage, that concerns intrusion into private life and were, for instance, to say, “I attribute the unfounded allegations which Mr Baykal has leveled at our government to his state of mind. The most serious thing here is the intrusion into private life. We are prepared immediately to set up a special commission in Parliament to investigate this and, if necessary, to grant special powers to this commission; let all parties be represented by three members on the commission and let it be established beyond all doubt which person or persons staged this attack because, as you know, I have also been the victim of such an attack,” he would have avoided falling into Baykal’s trap.

But, instead of doing that, he went into the content of the footage, said that, “Baykal has not denied” the footage and accused him of “immorality.” In other words, a dispute has broken out.

Now Baykal wishes to turn this dispute into a campaign which will benefit himself and his party. With the Ak Party having gone into the content of the footage, he will produce a series of accusations ranging from “setting up a reign of terror” to fascism, but most importantly he will retain the initiative in the dispute and will, in a sense, attempt to push the Prime-Minister and Ak Party into a defensive position.

This is an exceptionally ambitious political goal. Baykal cannot attain this goal on an individual basis; he needs his party to stand behind him. And you will see that this will happen. Baykal’s title will perhaps not be ‘party chairman’ for a while, but he will continue to act as ‘leader of the opposition’, for as long as he can.

This is the political scenario that I see.

Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton