CHP’s “Call to the Second Century:” A meeting of academics or a political manifesto?

CHP’s “Call to the Second Century:” A meeting of academics or a political manifesto?
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CHP’s much anticipated meeting brings together academics and party leaders to discuss economic problems and national development ahead of the election cycle, but its messaging causes some confusion.

CAN BURGAZ- The curiously awaited “Call to the Second Century” meeting organized by Turkey’s main opposition party the CHP (Republican People’s Party), recently took place. The contents of the meeting which had been released to the public days before the event itself had caused much uproar. Academics, experts, and leading staff members made presentations alongside the CHP Chair Kemal Kilicdaroglu. The high technical specificity of the presentations caused some to question the comprehensibility of the meeting for the public to whom it was intended. However, others are of the opinion that the academic basis of the meeting will be beneficial as the party creates a foundation for its economic policies.

Who spoke, which points were mentioned?

When the public found out that the CHP would be explaining a document alongside expert economists, no one quite knew what this would entail. Some of the speakers attended the rather crowded event held at the Lutfi Kirdar International Congress and Exhibition Center via videoconferencing.

CHP Party Chair Kemal Kilicdaroglu made the opening speech. In his address, Kilicdaroglu said, “Today is the day we change the fate of this country. To do so, we must change our understanding of and approach to governance at its root. However, the solution to this is not the replacement of the existing one-man rule with another solitary man. Should the one-man leave? Yes, he should. Should the one-man regime come to an end? Yes, it should. But what comes to replace it should be a new system — a functional new system. We are not looking for another one-man. Today, you will hear from us the foundations for a brand-new system.”

Kilicdaroglu’s “we are not looking for a new one-man ruler” statement was perceived as a jab at Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu who some fear will become a “second Erdogan” if ever elected.

Then, Jeremy Rifkin, an advisor to Kemal Kilicdaroglu who had previously advised German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the implementation of a "Third Industrial Revolution,” connected to the meeting via videoconferencing. Rifkin's speech was on changes in global industry and how climate change will affect economic structure. Rifkin said, “We live together in the Mediterranean basin. If Turkey takes on this leadership, it could play a pivotal role in both entering the third industrial revolution and rapprochement with the EU. We need to make Turkey this pivot, this central country.”

Faik Oztrak, CHP’s Deputy Chairman and Party Spokesperson, then came to the podium. Providing a glimpse of the principles the CHP would pursue if It came to power, Oztrak said, “When we get to 2030, in a Turkey with a strong democracy, institutions, and laws, in a Turkey that enriches itself through production, in a Turkey that is competitive, in a Turkey that equitably shares wealth, in a cleaner and greener Turkey; we will raise the per capita income to over 20,000 dollars. We will increase our national income to over 2 trillion dollars. Our exports will exceed 600 billion dollars. In seven years, we will create over 8.5 million new jobs for our countrymen. We will reduce unemployment and inflation to low single digits. We will ensure that our country and our people achieve the quality of life they deserve.”

Hacer Foggo, CHP Poverty Solidarity Office Coordinator, listed the steps her party envisions to fight poverty. Foggo said, “During the course of this republic’s history, we have born witness to tough times. Yet we experienced both poverty and wealth as one, we overcame it together. Turkey’s deepening poverty over the past 20 years is giving way to inequality. We are living through a time in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer while most do not blink an eye. Poverty and inequality had never been this entrenched nor tasted so bitter in this land, because country nation had never before met it with such apathy or such poor understanding of governance.”

Former chief economist of the Central Bank, Hakan Kara, also made a presentation about monetary policies via videoconferencing. Kara said, “When we look at growth and financial flows since the late 1980s when we started opening up, we see that they always go hand in hand. After a few years of high growth, we experience a crash, and this cycle keeps repeating itself. Now, when you look at this picture, you can tell that it is conducive to neither sustainable development nor to sustainable income growth, and that it would be difficult to provide the necessary resources for structural reforms. As such, this picture must be changed. And for it to be changed, macro financial policies must be put into place and mechanisms to increase Turkey’s economic resilience to external shocks must be engineered.”

Professor Refet Gurkaynak from Bilkent University also made a presentation via videoconferencing. Gurkaynak expressed that Turkey does indeed have the tools necessary to reduce inflation, saying, “Turkey needs to return to a regulated market economy from the command economy route it is currently taking. The alternatives here are not brutal capitalism or a Soviet-style command economy. Brutal capitalism is also a system that works poorly, both in terms of efficiency and in terms of justice. But a properly regulated market system is something that works.”

Professor Ufuk Akcigit, also connected to the meeting via videoconferencing and made a comprehensive presentation on institutional productivity in Turkey. Akcigit said, “We have a lot of problems that have piled up. As we can see here, the topics are varied; we have to adopt a comprehensive and detailed approach. Well, what happens if we do not deal with these issues? Let me give you the answer; nothing will happen. We will neither sink nor swim, nothing will happen, just as nothing has happened for Turkey in the last 60 years.”

Selin Sayek Boke, the CHP’s General Secretary, gave the address with the most overt political tone at the podium. Boke, who said, “Our choice is obvious. Our vision is clear. We will uplift Turkey in the second century of our Republic. And all segments of society will prosper together. And together, we will permanently eliminate the heavy destruction crushing us today,” was applauded by the audience. Boke said, “We are coming to govern this country with a new collective approach. We will put the public interest before all else. In the meantime, if market disruptions occur, we will of course resolve them. We will aim for efficiency. We will aim for secure employment. We will aim for a green revolution. We will aim for the equal access and widespread use of technology by society. We will aim for the public to have leadership, and if necessary, a producer role in certain technologies. We are coming with a new collective approach to governance, one that invests in talent, in its people, in the capacity of the producer. In other words, we are coming to govern our country with an entrepreneurial and dynamic state understanding.”

MIT economist, professor Daron Acemoglu said in his presentation, “Turkey needs to make a technological breakthrough. To this end, and as my colleagues have emphasized, we need more investment in research and development, and in science. Science needs to be better utilized and education needs to be improved. And this requires a technology strategy. And none of this is possible without the right institutional structures and democracy.”

At the podium once more for the closing remarks, Kilicdaroglu said, “No one in this country will wake in fear. Each citizen will live in the assurance that a functioning system — that is, the system that we will form — will protect the national economy, its industry, its tradespeople, its laborers. Individuals and rulers may come and go, but this country will never be flung to and fro ever again. This will be my greatest and most beautiful legacy for my priceless country,” and strongly signaled his nomination for the Presidency as such.

Kılıcdaroglu, who also addressed the global community, said, “O world! Turkey will not be your cheap labor field! Turkey will not be your refugee camp! Turkey will not be your landfill! I will be your rival! We come to rival you, O world, to rival you!”

Academic Conference or Political Manifesto?

The fact that scientists constituted a majority of the speakers at the CHP’s “Call to a Second Century” meeting raised questions about the nature of the event.

In his article on the opposition Halk TV web site, journalist Ismail Saymaz emphasized that party platform meetings are not places for economic symposiums or academic presentations. Saymaz writes, “The CHP erred by fusing together a party platform meeting that should have conveyed political messages in the simplest, most easily comprehensible manner with a symposium that discussed solutions to economic problems on a conceptual level. As if this was not enough, speakers quite literally gave the audience a lecture in economy by showing tables, listing figures, and sharing statistics.”

Saymaz also pointed to the fact that Jeremy Rifkin’s presentation did not align with Turkey’s reality. Saymaz said, “To preach about climate change to someone worrying over how to pay the bills, to talk about zero carbon to someone waiting in the lines in front of the Turkish Employment Agency, to explain fossil fuels to someone whose tractor has been levied; this is what it means to be ignorant of Turkey.”

Another prominent journalist, Mehmet Y. Yilmaz, opined in the opposition T24 news agency that politics is not something to be done with think-tank parties who are above politics, and that it is done by being able to affect the electorate and diffuse political messaging.

Yilmaz also indicated that if the Table of Six* also sets forth their own visions, a lot of mayhem can result. Yilmaz writes, “We cannot know in the moment to what extent the vision and road map created by the Table of Six will converge or diverge. However, I can say that if this Table is to set out as an electoral alliance, separate visions voiced by each party will create nothing but dissonance in their messaging.”

Writing for ArtiGercek, academic Levent Koker reflected on Kilicdaroglu’s opening and closing statements regarding the fact that a vision that defines itself as above politics can only be realized through political means. On this, he said, “This is understandable, and if one were to take an optimistic view at a political party declaring that it aspires to govern Turkey in the light of analyses put forth based on objective scientific facts unsullied by political anxieties, you might even say ‘isn’t this what we had been wanting?’”

According to Koker, the need to include other parties underlies the emphasis on being “above politics.” Koker said, “I think this and other similar approaches are being touted as being “above politics” to indicate that parties besides the CHP should accept these views. Frankly speaking, this attitude can be summarized as ‘Look, these are not just the views of the CHP. These are objective truths that should be accepted by all. Let’s come together to make them a reality.’ I believe this is what they mean when they talk and write of an “above politics” vision in combination with politics itself: putting scientific truths at the foundation of politics.”

*The Table of Six is a political organization consisting of the CHP, the Good Party, the Felicity Party, the Democrat Party, the DEVA (Democracy and Progress) Party, and the Future Party. It was formed on February 12, 2022.