Have the AKP lost their biggest asset?

A friend working in Istanbul’s diplomatic community tells of an exchange he had a while back with a politician from the ruling AK Party about Deniz Baykal, the former leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, who resigned yesterday because of a ‘sex tape’ scandal.

‘You lot must love Deniz Baykal,’ the diplomat said.
‘Why would we like him?’ asked the surprised AK Party member.
‘Because he’s worth at least 10 per cent of your votes.’
Leaning in and whispering, the politician replied: ‘More!’

Baykal himself accused the AKP of being involved somehow involved in the tape’s release.
But you’ve got to ask, why would they want him gone?

To many observers he is emblematic of the backwardness and irrelevance of Turkey’s Kemalist opposition parties. This from a Financial Times opinion piece from March 12 by David Gardner, who pulls no punches:

the Kemalists… are unelectable: after being trounced in two general elections by the AKP they appear to have no strategy except to return to power by goading the army and the judiciary into seizing back what their howlingly irrelevant parties keep losing at the ballot box.

…Ataturk’s Republican People’s party (CHP), under the ageing and illiberal Deniz Baykal, is a rudderless rump, incapable of appealing to a young Turkey. 

Speculation in the Turkish press has suggested young blood within the CHP or the wider Kemalist opposition could be responsible for the ‘sex tape’ scandal.

Today Zaman columnist Orhan Kemal Cengiz said to me: 

It’s very obvious that he was targeted from within. The government should be extremely stupid to do something like that because Baykal is a very good opposition leader for them because he has no chance of creating a strong political reign which will bring the CHP to power. You wouldn’t want to lose him because if the CHP really started to function democratically there might be a very strong political opposition and it would be really dangerous for the AKP.

Cengiz also believed Baykal was playing a ‘game’ with his resignation speech, and warned that the stakes are high if his accusations against the party are groundless.

His statement was not a statement of someone who really and unconditionally gave up political life. He wants to be called back… If Baykal is talking without having any credible basis for his allegations he will be wiped out from political life.

 It will be interesting to see just how permanent Baykal’s departure is, and where the CHP might go without him.

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