All Politics Is Local: Mustafa Sarıgül and the CHP (Part Three)
[Part one of this article can be found here; part two can be found here.]
Even before the campaign had started, there had been whispers that Sarıgül would make a better CHP General President than Deniz Baykal. At the time, he had dismissed such suggestions, saying, “I am bound to the problems of Şişli for another five years. We already have a President.” Now, however, his tone was changing: asked how he had won, he explained, “We have brought back the spirit and the conviction of the 1974 CHP.” That was an era before Baykal’s faction had formed. The implication was clear: the time had come for Sarıgül to make his move.
A few weeks after his re-election, Sarıgül was still going through his normal routines: once again, he was in Ankara with two hundred buses packed with local kids on their way to see Ataturk’s mausoleum. A month later, however, political maneuvers began in earnest, as thirty out of the 174 CHP parliamentarians released a statement calling for a special congress to reform the party’s platform and leadership. Within a week, photocopies of an anti-Sarıgül book called The CASA Event began circulating among CHP members. The book rehashed the accusations made against Sarıgül in 2001 that he had forged another member’s signature in order to block an inquiry into a Spanish arms manufacturer in 1991.
Undeterred by attempts to smear him, Sarıgül began traveling around the country holding large rallies. Rather than criticizing Baykal directly, he tended to focus his ire on the AKP. When asked by reporters where the internal party opposition to him was coming from, he suggested, “One segment still views me as ‘Our Mustafa’ [and asks itself] ‘Our Youth Arm President…Our child, our kid, how did he get ahead of us?’ Another group doesn’t approve [of me] either; they don’t find [me] intellectual and so forth.”
Such views were on display for all to see as, a few weeks later, his own party began linking to anti-Sarıgül newspaper articles on its website. In one, a columnist quoted an interview Sarıgül had given to an Islamist newspaper in which he had argued that the people (not the state) should solve the issue of headscarves. In another, columnist Ebru Çapa described his rallies as examples of his false populism: “Hey Mustafa Bey, are you going to be a PM or a PR agent?...Always going about with your foundation cream, never without your manicures and pedicures. 
A third columnist—albeit speaking through the quotes of an unnamed source—focused on Sarıgül’s penchant for self-promotion:
He’s a populist and never misses an opportunity. For example, the [1999 Istanbul earthquake]: every municipality, as best it could, loaded food, drinks, and relief supplies onto trucks and sent them to the disaster zone. But Sarıgül did it in a different fashion. Şişli’s municipal building is in Esentepe, here’s where the relief supplies can be loaded and sent across the Bosporus bridge to İzmit and Gölcük, right? Nope: Sarıgül’s trucks headed toward Taksim—in the opposite direction—so that the aid convoy could be seen, so its announcements could be heard over loudspeakers. Later, the convoy turned around and went to İzmit.
Such critiques were not new, but the pressure put on Sarıgül from his own party was not limited to internet heckling: in mid-August, thirty-one provincial party heads announced that it was inappropriate and “unethical” for mayors to be leaving their municipalities and giving speeches in other parts of the country. Two weeks later, the CHP’s Central Committee announced it would be opening an investigation into Sarıgül. With the approval of the Interior Minister, the committee requested that the Şişli prosecutors’ office investigate whether Sarıgül or his assistants had taken bribes from property developers. In the face of these moves, Sarıgül held another rally in the city of Çorlu with crowds of around ten thousand in attendance. He followed it up with more rallies in Çukrova and Urfa in early November.
The CHP Central Committee released its findings in the middle of the month. The report accused Sarıgül’s Deputy Mayor of soliciting a three-hundred-thousand-lira bribe from developers in return for approving extra floors on a building. During a phone conversation recorded by the Interior Ministry, the deputy had claimed that “high level administrators” were involved. As the report put it, “Who could be the ‘high level administrator’ above a deputy mayor? Without a doubt, this is describing Mayor Mustafa Sarıgül.” The committee recommended that Sarıgül be expelled by the party’s disciplinary committee, and Baykal’s second-in-command, General Secretary Önder Sav, warned his fellow CHP members not to attend Sarıgül’s rallies while the review process was on-going—otherwise they too might face expulsion from the party. The threat infuriated Sarıgül supporters and transformed his upcoming Mersin rally into a focus for protest. Ultimately, sixteen members ignored warnings from the party leadership and appeared with Sarıgül.
In addition to peeling off dissident parliamentarians, Sarıgül was beginning to have success at the organizational level. In late November, a slate of candidates loyal to him was elected at the Tekirdağ Provincial Congress. Fighting party leaders at the local level was how Bulent Ecevit had deposed İsmet İnönü three decades earlier, and Sarıgül was keen to emphasize his claim on Ecevit’s legacy. Unfortunately, Ecevit and local party leaders did not share his assessment of the situation; sixty-seven provincial party chiefs issued a statement opposing his activities.
Still, Sarıgül kept up his attacks on the CHP leadership, filing a lawsuit against Baykal for defamation and explaining:
I live with dignity and honor. Anyone can say anything about me, but nobody can dispute my honor. Those who are throwing mud at me, can’t find me in their mud…A party can’t be run on the logic of “throw some mud, some will stick.” What has the CHP [leadership] done about unemployment, EU negotiations, Cyprus, or national unity? Nothing. It only strives to protect its party power.
With the Discipline Committee’s decision set for the beginning of January, Baykal called for a Special CHP Congress to be held at the end of the month. Against Baykal’s expectations, however, six out of fifteen committee members rejected the charges against Sarıgül, denying Sarıgül’s opponents the votes they needed. With accusations of last-minute vote buying coming from both sides, and members who had failed to vote out Sarıgül facing expulsion, the final showdown between the factions was postponed until month’s end.
The date set, factions sprang into action. Zülfü Livaneli (a musician, writer, former Istanbul mayoral candidate, and current member of parliament) declared his candidacy for party president. Meanwhile, Baykal and Sarıgül made tours of the country. Sarıgül struck a statesmanlike pose, claiming that, regardless of the criticisms he had received, he still loved Baykal; he added, however, that he was tired of “carrying water to Baykal’s mill.”
Baykal took the opposite tack, observing, “In every organization…there will be a traitorous contingent. Sometimes they will even take your side…In Izmir [after the War of Independence, Atatürk] was subjected to the assassination plots of his friends-in-arms.” To such allusions Sarıgül scoffed, “Were Atatürk to rise from his grave and be a candidate, Baykal would find an excuse [to criticize] him.” But Baykal went further; at a meeting of the CHP’s Mediterranean region delegates, he explained, “Some people have entered into this party’s internal struggles with the intent of changing its nature, playing games that injure Turkey…We will see that those hoping to transmit the virus of corruption into the CHP will be unsuccessful.” Later that day, during a break, he suggested that Sarıgül was a tool of the United States, an attempt to “attack [the CHP] internally, for its opposition to the Iraq invasion.
In advance of the party congress, General Secretary Önder Sav issued a memorandum stating that only delegates would be allowed to enter the meeting hall itself. Even “honorary members” like Sarıgül would not be permitted. Baykal, meanwhile, declared that, prior to the 2004 mayoral election, the AKP had compiled a dossier on Sarıgül. In essence, Sarıgül was a “time bomb” within the CHP, ready to “explode” at a moment of the Prime Minister’s choosing. Fortunately for Sarıgül, his potential rival, Livaneli, did not see the situation as so dire and willingly withdrew from the race a day before the congress was set to begin, leaving Sarıgül as Baykal’s only challenger.
The congress was held on 29 January at a large stadium in Ankara, with well over two thousand in attendance. Its first order of business was to elect a chairman for the congress. Each faction put up its own candidate; Baykal’s candidate, Istanbul Provincial President Şinasi Öktem, won by several hundred votes. At this point, Cafar Dursun, one of the Discipline Committee members whom Baykal had accused of accepting bribes to defend Sarıgül, leapt to his feet and began shouting at the stage, “What sort of General President are you?” Hearing this commotion, small fights broke out between factions throughout the stadium.
Sarıgül arrived at noon with his wife, son, and a contingent of supporters, all sporting yellow scarves. The party had issued magnetic entry cards to anyone it had deemed eligible to enter, but Sarıgül claimed it had denied these to his supporters, forcing his allies to wait outside the stadium until three in the morning to receive cards. Such games, he suggested, were indicative of Baykal’s attempt to turn the congress into a “one goalie match.” Upon being asked for entry cards and found lacking, Sarıgül supporters busted down the door and marched into the room. The group, confronted by a hostile press of Baykal supporters shouting slogans like “USA out,” was forced to form a human barricade around Sarıgül. Again fistfights broke out between the factions, including Sarıgül’s son. At one point, the Mayor of Bakırköy, Ateş Ünal Erzen, confronted Sarıgül and attempted to take his seat in the stands. The two men began pushing each other and—according to Sarıgül—Erzen knocked down Sarıgül’s wife, Aylin. Seeing her stumble, Sarıgül struck Erzen, who was then rushed off to the hospital by his supporters. At this point, riot police were called in to separate the sides.
Taking the stage, Baykal gave a long speech, often interrupted by angry Sarıgül supporters shouting slogans and tossing bottles and spare change. Initially, his speech focused on the bribery charges against Sarıgül, but soon he moved into a wide-ranging series of charges. These included suggestions that Sarıgül was tied to Korkmaz Yiğit, a powerful businessman with mafia connections whose dramatic fall implicated many politicians. Baykal also reminded delegates that Sarıgül had supported Ali Topuz in the late 1980s when Topuz had sought to limit Alevi influence in the party. He further accused Sarıgül of putting himself over the party: harking back to Sarıgül’s “mill” comments, he announced, “All of us are carrying water to the CHP’s mill,” and asked where Sarıgül had been during the late 1990s and early 2000s when the CHP had been too small a party to enter parliament. Looking at Sarıgül, he declared, “You are a fair weather friend; on dark days you are no friend at all.”
It was a harsh speech, throughout which Sarıgül supporters mockingly cried, “Evidence! Evidence!” and “Prosecutor Baykal” in response to his accusations; at one point, Baykal shouted back at them, “You won’t block these truths with your noise!” When it was over, Sarıgül attempted to make a speech of his own, but was denied by the Congress Chairman Şinasi Öktem. The two began arguing, Sarıgül demanding his right to speak and Öktem telling him to sit down. The stand off ended with Öktem calling a half hour break. Sarıgül left the stage, but continued his protests from behind a protective ring of riot police. Now fighting erupted among the congress’s council members, during which Öktem was hit in the face. Once again riot police were called in to clear the room of all but approved delegates. With the situation finally calmed, the vote was taken: 460 for Sarıgül, 674 for Baykal.
Several days later, at a parliamentary group meeting, Baykal reflected on the congress. Characterizing Sarıgül’s supporters as “Şişli Parking lot mafioso” and “night-club bouncers,” he promised that, “Those who are responsible for the terror and violence experienced at the congress will be evaluated.” There was little doubt now that Sarıgül and his allies would be expelled from the party. With his own banishment imminent, Sarıgül continued haranguing Baykal, accusing him of being part of media mogul (and self-proclaimed-messiah) Sun Myung Moon’s church and declared, rather loftily:
Today, alas, [the CHP] is under occupation. This situation will change. In our recent history, Mussolinis and Hitlers have failed in their battles against freedom and independence. Victory, soon or later, will come to those who do not bow their heads to injustice.
Such rhetoric had little effect: on 18 February, Sarıgül and fifteen of the sixteen parliamentarians who had joined him at his Mersin meeting were expelled from the party by a unanimous vote of the Discipline Committee.
In the weeks following the expulsions, five CHP parliamentarians resigned from the party in protest and joined the SHP. Asked if he would follow suit, Sarıgül responded that he would continue fighting to democratize and free the CHP. Initially, this goal looked achievable: courts both refused to investigate the accusations of bribery and overruled the CHP’s expulsion decision in June. With the case being appealed and his status still uncertain, Sarıgül decided not to challenge Baykal at the next party congress. In July, a higher court sided with the CHP Discipline Committee and allowed his expulsion to stand—a bitter pill to swallow, but perhaps made better by an October ruling awarding him damages of ten thousand lira in his suit against Baykal. Nonetheless, he appealed the ruling, leaving the case to drag on until 2007, when the CHP’s decision was finally upheld by the Turkish Supreme Court.
No longer part of the CHP, Sarıgül continued to criticize Baykal by arguing:
Today, opposing the AKP, there is neither a strong social democratic force nor a structure [capable of] producing an alternative…Throughout my life, I have always been on the side of democracy and I hope to never budge from its side…it is necessary to create a social democratic project and provide the necessary change that social democracy needs. Today in Turkey there is a ruling party, but sadly no opposition party.
In order to bring about the opposition party he claimed was lacking, Sarıgül established the “Movement for Change in Turkey” following the 2009 local elections (in which he had run for re-election as a member of the DSP). As its leader, he continued to hold rallies—524 between 2004 and 2010. His plan was to turn the organization into an actual party in advance of the 2011 elections, but unexpected events put such moves on hold. After a video emerged of Deniz Baykal and another CHP parliamentarian dressing (ostensibly post-coitus), Baykal was forced to resign as party president. In his place came Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, a far less divisive figure. At the urging of his old mentor, Ali Topuz, Sarıgül was convinced to remain out of the 2011 election.
Over the following two years, Sarıgül and Kılıçdaroğlu came to an understanding that Sarıgül would make a strong candidate for mayor in 2014 and, over the course of 2013, Sarıgül inched closer to rejoining the CHP, finally reapplying for membership in December. Though his attempts to treat the CHP (and not himself) as the supplicants in the relationship annoyed many in the party hierarchy and recalled the factional bitterness of past years, his return and nomination for mayor was largely a fait accompli. No other potential CHP candidate had the name-recognition and connections that Sarıgül possesses. His strengths are a combination of his skill at politicking and his connections to power elites willing to bankroll him—as it has often been pointed out, Şişli contains 420 of Turkey’s 500 largest corporations and takes in more tax revenue than any other municipality.
Then again, Sarıgül’s disadvantages are equally striking. Connections with a variety of questionable businessmen, like Korkmaz Yiğit, continue to trail after him; the CASA scandal from twenty years ago still appears in newspapers; and his personal relationships have bred scandalous rumors. There is a suspicion that more accusations remain in AKP dossiers, waiting for the right moment to be revealed.
As to the basic question of whether Sarıgül represents an improvement over the AKP, the answer is far from clear. His greatest accomplishments are rather similar to those that brought the AKP to power—namely, providing services to poor neighborhoods in his district. His greatest weaknesses likewise mirror those of the ruling party: he presides over a municipality of concrete and office buildings, and maintains relations with elites that would seem fertile soil for corruption.
Most troubling is his personality itself. A perennial problem in Turkish politics is the rigidity of party structure. Parties tend to be oriented around a single personality and his network of clients and dependents. As the history of the CHP illustrates, the power that party leaders exercise and their willingness to use party rules in defense of their own power results in endless struggles for dominance within the party. In a case like Sarıgül’s challenge to Baykal, party leaders are quite willing to defame and undermine their party’s most popular members in order to protect themselves. And, when challengers like Baykal and Ecevit finally succeed, they aggregate power to themselves with as much fervor as the predecessors they once criticized. Sarıgül may emphasize the need for internal party democracy, but given his history of factionalism and his perception of himself as above his own party, there is little evidence he will not follow suit.
While many accusations are directed at Turkey’s ruling party—that it is corrupt; that is seeks to impose Islam on society; that it is undermining the checks and balances of constitutional order—few of these failings are unique to the AKP. More often, they are traits shared by the majority of Turkish politicians: disregard for minority rights and willful deafness to criticism. In power, Turkish leaders have always sought to impose their beliefs on others. During its climb to undisputed power during the 2000s, the AKP leaders did many things to make Turkey a less majoritarian society. Now that that they can claim the majority, however, AKP leaders are falling into old habits.
The time may have come for a change of leadership, and Sarıgül might well be an improvement on the current, worn-out administration. The strongest argument in his favor is that he is the closest thing to Erdoğan that the CHP has to offer—he is active, charismatic, politically astute, and sensitive to the needs of rich and poor. Yet those very strengths suggest he is unlikely to bring the long-term change Turks deserve.
 Fatih Altaylı, “Belediye başkanı kişidir, parti değil,” Hurriyet, 3/27/04. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 “Laik, liberal ekonomi küreselleşme standart,” Hurriyet, 4/4/04. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 The list, which includes current CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, can be seen HERE.
 “Sarıgül adı, Baykal muhaliflerini böldü,” Hurriyet, 5/27/04. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 He criticized the AKP so much that one skeptical woman asked him whether he could think of anything positive to say about the ruling party. After a moment, Sarıgül replied, “That’s a tough question. In a hundred and thirty days I will give an answer. But I don’t think that answer will be to your taste” (Yalçın Bayar, “Beni durduramazsınız,” Hurriyet, 5/27/04).
 Ayşe Arman, “Başbakanlıktan başka görev kabul etmem,” Hurriyet, 7/18/04. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 Emin Çölaşan, “Bir bilmecem var, kim olduğunu siz bilin!” Hurriyet, 8/3/04. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 Ebru Çapa, “Güldür güldür-sarıdır- güldür temas,” Hurriyet, 8/5/04. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 Hasan Pulur, “Sarıgül ya da “Morarmış Gül!” Milliyet, 8/7/04. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 “CHP istanbul’dan Sarıgül’e destek yok,” Hurriyet, 8/14/04. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 “Rüşveti biliyordu,” Hurriyet, 11/15/04. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 Among these sixteen were three who had been expelled earlier in the year for “hurting the party” through their efforts to collect signatures calling for a special party congress. A court, however, overruled the party’s decision and reinstated them within months (Saban Sevinç, “Sarıgül’leyiz,” Hurriyet, 11/20/04).
 ”Sarıgül: CHP’nin sorunlara çözüm önerisi yok,” Hurriyet, 12/30/04. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 “Bribe in Return of Expelling Sarigul,” Turkish Daily News, 1/6/05. Accessed: 1/15/14. In addition to suggesting Sarıgül had bought votes, Emin Çölaşan argued that Sarıgül was guilty of many other errors: first and foremost, driving around Ankara with a fake license plate reading “06 CHP 365” (referring to the number of seats the party needed for a majority). This seems particularly unconscionable to Çölaşan. (“CHP iflah olur mu?” Hurriyet, 1/5/05 ).
 Murat Yetkin, “Ya kurultay sonrası?” Radikal, 1/25/05. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 Saban Sevinç, “Arkadaşları Atatürk’e bile suikast düzenledi,” Hurriyet, 1/18/05. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 Kerem Pulgat, “Atatürk aday olsa Baykal ona da bahane bulur,” Hurriyet, 1/25/04. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 Elif Demirci, “Sarıgül’ü içimize ABD saldı,” Hurriyet, 1/24/05. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 “Baykal: Sarıgül bombasını Erdoğan yerleştirdi,” Hurriyet, 1/26/04. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 “CHP’de kavgalı kurultay,” Yeni Safak, 1/30/05. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 “CHP’li muhalifler PM ve YDK seçiminde yok,” Hurriyet, 1/30/05. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 “Divan Başkanlığı’na Baykal’ın adayı seçildi,” Hurriyet, 1/29/05. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 In January 2014, two months before the mayoral election, Sarıgül’s bank accounts were frozen by the government based on claims that he and associates had received (and failed to pay) a multi-million dollar loan from one of Yiğit’s banks in 1998 (see Ercan Baysal, “Korkmaz Yiğit’in Sarıgül’le rövanşı,” Star Gazetesi, 1/19/14. Accessed: 1/21/14. But keep in mind that Star is close to the government).
 “Baykal: Yolsuzluk ‘alnım açık’ mugalatasıyla geçiştirilemez,” Hurriyet, 1/29/05. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 “CHP, kurultayında yumruklar konuştu!..” Milliyet, 1/29/05. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 “Baykal’dan CHP’de ‘temizlik kampanyası,’” Sabah, 2/1/05. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 This accusation referred to a “World Peace Conference” hosted by Moon, which Baykal (and many others including George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev) had attended in 1997. (Rauf Gerz, “Baykal’ın Moon savunması,” Hurriyet, 12/3/97).
 Saban Sevinç, “Deniz Baykal’ı Hitler’e benzetti,” Hurriyet, 2/11/05. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 By joining the small party, they automatically made it eligible for around ten thousand USD in assistance from the government (Saban Sevinç, “2 trilyonluk istifalar,” Hurriyet, 3/28/13 ).
 “Yargıtay, Sarıgül’ün CHP üyeliğine vize vermedi,” Hurriyet, 12/12/07. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 “Sarıgül: Parti kapatmayı doğru bulmuyorum,” Hurriyet, 3/15/08. Accessed: 1/15/14.
 Sarıgül’s percentage fell ten points from 2004, but this can hardly be counted against him. He actually added another seven thousand votes to his total and impressively (given that such gains can be written off as the effects of population growth) held AKP vote gains to around two hundred. The real difference between 2009 and 2004 was that the CHP ran a candidate against Sarıgül, peeling off seventeen percent of the vote, which likely would have gone his way. (For 2009 election statistics, see HERE).
 Sarıgül, p. 229.
 “Tüm bilinmeyenleriyle Mustafa Sarıgül portresi,” OdaTv, 2/21/13. Accessed 1/5/14. Or, in English, Rasim Ozan Kutahyali, “Turkey’s left, unseat Erdogan?” Al-Monitor, 11/20/13. Accessed 1/5/14.
 In 2008, he and his wife Aylin divorced. According to Sarıgül this was part of a long process: “When I had returned from Romania and was the mayor of Sisli, our house was only a few kilometers away—I was even farther away than in Romania! Municipal duties: neighborhood visits, openings, weddings, meetings, funerals…The time I passed at home was limited to sleeping now…I would be sitting across from Aylin, but my head would be in Şişli! What was happening in this or that neighborhood…As though, if it weren’t for me, life would stop in Şişli. She would look at my face; perhaps she could read my mind…The request for divorce came from Aylin. It would be a lie to say I wasn’t expecting it.” (Sarıgül 200-1) However, some journalists suggest the cause was a twenty-four year old Bilgi University student named Eda (“Boşandılar iddiası ortalığı karıştırdı,” Hurriyet, 3/26/08). Aylin, whose uncle was an Istanbul mayor and served as a key advisor on Sarıgül’s campaigns, successfully sought the CHP’s nomination for the Beyoğlu municipality in the 2014 election.
[An earlier version of this article was published on the author’s blog; it can be found here.]