In the 38th Ordinary Assembly of the Republican People's Party (CHP), Özgür Özel emerged victorious in the presidential race against Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and was elected as the new chairman. During the congress, none of the candidates secured an absolute majority with the initial 684 votes in the first round. Consequently, in the second round, Özel increased his vote count from 682 in the first round to 812, securing his victory.
An intriguing incident unfolded between these two rounds. Following the first round, Kılıçdaroğlu contemplated withdrawing from the race and ascending the platform to raise Özel's hand. However, at that moment, a video posted on social media captured İmambakır Ülküş loudly telling Kılıçdaroğlu, "We won't permit you to withdraw. Let's continue the fight, and if we lose, let's do so with dignity." This statement elicited a strong reaction from many observers of the assembly. Subsequently, Kılıçdaroğlu announced that he would not withdraw, prompted not by the CHP leaders in his inner circle but by a village head from Malatya, who told him, "I don't want you to withdraw, and I won't allow it. If you do, I won't grant you the rights of my children."
Many perceived Kılıçdaroğlu's failure to engage in self-critique after the elections, take responsibility for the defeat, and fulfill his political duties as a result of pressure from party elites who supported him. Regardless of the accuracy of these interpretations, Kılıçdaroğlu's conduct since May has once again underscored the deep attachment that political party leaders have to their positions.
Özgür Özel's election as CHP chairman represents a noteworthy development for democracy. Despite suffering significant defeats in previous elections, including the recent May elections, Kılıçdaroğlu was reluctant to relinquish his Presidency. The fact that Özel, who aligns with the "change-makers" faction within the CHP, led by Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, secured the chairmanship through a competitive election is a significant milestone, not only for internal party democracy but also for Turkish democracy as a whole.
While the transformation within the CHP is a necessary step for the opposition to regroup, it is not sufficient on its own. Özel's election could be just the beginning of the changes required for the opposition to rejuvenate and cultivate a more expansive political vision. In this regard, the impending local elections in March 2024 are both urgent and fraught with uncertainties. It remains unclear how the new CHP leadership will collaborate with other parties and what kind of alliance model and candidate selection strategy it will advocate for in the local elections. Furthermore, the ability of this new era to appeal to voters, especially those who have become disengaged from politics, and how the opposition will connect with a broader audience will be pivotal factors in determining the success of the local elections.
In conclusion, the election of Özgür Özel as the CHP's chairman presents an opportunity for rejuvenating the CHP and reinvigorating the opposition in Turkish politics. Yet, the impact and sustainability of this transformation will hinge on the roadmap the party charts and the policies it formulates in the months and years ahead. Therefore, the decisions and actions that Özel and his new team undertake will be pivotal for both the party's future and Turkey's democratization endeavors.