Sunday, May 23, 2010

Good News for Turkey: At Last A Strong Opposition Leader

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By Barry Rubin

Finally, some positive news from Turkey. If it is ever going to defeat the current Islamist regime the opposition has to offer something good. Now, at last the CHP, the secularist social democrats who have been the main opposition party, has a decent leader.

The horrible Denis Baykal, who combined dictatorial rule over the party with a total lack of charismatic appeal, has been forced out after years of hanging on. I heard Baykal’s speech after his last election disaster and he obviously learned nothing and blamed the voters for his defeat. A video of Baykal engaging in illicit sex was the last straw for his long-suffering colleagues.

His replacement, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, is a 61-year-old popular politician and a big vote-getter whose base is Istanbul. He was a civil servant who headed the country’s social security agency, retired to lead an anti-corruption group, and then went into electoral politics. By the way, he is a Kurd.

There is real hope that this is the beginning of a comeback for the opposition. The regime’s spin will be that Kilicdaroglu is too far to the left but most will see him as a serious fighter against corruption. His nickname is Gandhi, due both to his appearance and unflappable style.

The CHP is the traditional party of government created by Kemal Ataturk and which ruled the country from the 1920s until 1950, then rotated into power periodically after that when the system became truly multi-party.

Can Kilicdaroglu pull together a cooperating opposition of left and centrist parties to challenge the AKP? This is going to be a tough battle with a lot of dirty infighting. Watch for the AKP to enlist the Western media to portray itself as moderate, economically successful despite Turkey’s high unemployment rate and other woes. Moreover, like many real "good government" type reformers Kilicdaroglu may prove too basically decent to deal with the dirty aspects of politics.

Still, for the first time since the AKP took power seven years ago and launched Turkey--first stealthily but now increasingly openly--on the Islamist road, there is someone who poses an alternative.

And for the bad news from Turkey, read this remarkable article detailing the repression that has been ignored--or even endorsed!--by most of the Western media: the fabrication of an obviously phony conspiracy which has resulted in the arrests of hundreds of peaceful opponents of the regime.

Incidentally, at least one high-level figure in the Islamist-pretending-to-be-moderate regime--a parliament member close to the prime minister--has stated that I am part of this conspiracy to overthrow the Turkish government as a result of articles written in this blog criticizing the regime.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; The West and the Middle East (four volumes); and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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