One of the long-standing customs of Eid al-Adha (Kurban Bayramı, the Festival of Sacrifice) is for people to use the holiday as an opportunity to visit their relatives. Turkish politicians do much the same with their political rivals: for the week-long holiday, hands are wrung, tea is served and baklava is awkwardly nibbled, as representatives from Party X chat to Party Y’s people about what a wonderful time of year this is. Of course, the cameras are there to capture the moment.
On the whole, these are tedious affairs that last little longer than half an hour in practice and barely thirty seconds on the evening news. This year, however, there has finally been a reason for excitement: the pro-secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) met the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) for the first time.
That in itself is quite something. CHP has long snubbed the smallest party in parliament during the holidays, largely because they have tended to regard the BDP as too close to the PKK and too far from the concept of a undivided Turkish state for comfort. But CHP is under new leadership, undergoing a period of significant renewal, and yesterday’s visit revealed that the two have more in common than they think. Both are – ostensibly, at least – parties of the centre-left. Indeed, both were represented at this week’s Socialist International council meeting in Paris.
During yesterday’s Eid visit, in full view and earshot of the assembled journalists, the BDP proposed an electoral alliance. Unity among the Turkish left has not happened for more than a quarter century, but many proponents believe it is a key step towards unseating the governing (centre-right) AK Party at next year’s election.
There would be other material advantages too: BDP members would presumably run on the CHP list, thus avoiding entanglements with the 10 percent electoral threshold. For CHP, it would deliver instant and solid gains in East and Southeast Turkey, a region where they haven’t won anything for years. Besides, they have a common rival: BDP’s only main challenger in the region is AK. The opportunity for a credible opposition is clear.
So they’d be mad not to go for it, yes? Well, the matter is complicated by the BDP’s Kurdish connection. There is a significant nationalist contingent within CHP who, disgusted by the prospect of an alliance, could split the party and take its votes elsewhere – to the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), for example. As Ahmet Altan points out in today’s Taraf, “the girl who threw stones at the BDP convoy during a party visit to Izmir [a CHP stronghold] last year would not easily vote CHP”.
It is definitely too early to say, but this could be the start of something special.
UPDATE: Milliyet has CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu being rather unequivocal about all this. “Our view is clear: we want to govern alone,” he told reporters in Ankara. “We have no search for an alliance, nor have we called for one.”
That’s that, then.