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Gokce Gokcen: Turkey’s Rejuvenated Opposition is Ready to Take Power

The shadow Justice Minister for the main opposition party’s new leader, Ozgur Ozel, told BIRN that a younger, revitalised opposition will provide a real challenge to Turkey’s strongman Erdogan.

Following its humiliating election defeat by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the May 14 elections, Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party, CHP, and its presidential contender came under heavy fire for losing.

Since then, the CHP has changed its leadership at a party congress on November 5. The new party president, Ozgur Ozel, faces a hard task – reuniting his party but also the entire disunited opposition with a new “shadow ministry” system.

His young shadow Justice Minister, Gokce Gokcen, told BIRN in an interview that their goal is clear – “changing the government” and so ending Erdogan’s 22-year-long rule.

“In the CHP, both the renewal of the chairman and the management and the change in the working method should be seen as a preparation for a change of power,” Gokcen said.

The new party administration is very different from the old CHP administration, and it also separates itself from other parties.

The median age of Ozel’s new party caucus is 43. The new central executive board’s median age is 46 – and half of the names are female.

Thirty-two-year-old Gokcen is one of them.

“The party administration became younger, and equal representation of genders was achieved in the shadow cabinet. We are extremely pleased to see that our citizens are starting to feel hopeful again,” Gokcen said.

Face of a younger generation of women

Gokcen represents both the younger generation and women in Turkish politics.

She has a bachelor’s degree from Istanbul’s prestigious Galatasaray University’s Faculty of Law and is currently completing her PhD in law at Marmara University in Istanbul.

Gokcen joined the CHP in 2010 in Istanbul and had several positions in its Istanbul branch. Following that, she served as Vice President of the Young European Socialists, YES, in charge of foreign affairs as well as feminism.

Her work in Turkey and Europe has brought her to the main opposition party’s top positions. She was first appointed vice president in 2018 in charge of human rights and became vice president responsible for youth policies in 2020.

Being active in politics, and as one of the most outspoken CHP officials on youth issues, women issues and rights and freedoms. Gokcen sided with former leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu when he declared his candidacy against Erdogan in the presidential race, despite concerns that he was not the best-suited candidate.

Gokcen was elected to parliament for the first time in the May 14 elections from the port city of Izmir on the Aegean coast.

However, following the election defeat, Gokcen was one of the first to part ways with her former boss, siding with Ozel and Istanbul’s popular Mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu.

In the party congress, Gokcen was elected to the party caucus and was appointed justice minister in Ozel’s shadow cabinet, a system which had never been tried in Turkey.

Pioneering the shadow cabinet system

“Working with this system has been suggested for a long time by both academics, political scientists, and those interested in politics, but somehow it was not fully implemented,” she said.

“We see examples of this around the world. With the shadow cabinet system, the aim is to have closer monitoring and political control of the ministries, to make the areas in which party vice presidents work more specific, and to have a CHP that is institutionally prepared to come to power,” Gokcen explained.

A shadow cabinet for the main opposition party is a well-known practice in British politics.

It consists of a senior group of opposition spokespeople who, under the leadership of the leader, form an alternative cabinet to that of the current government and whose members shadow or mirror the positions of each individual member of the cabinet in power.

She underlined that elected politicians, not appointed ones, will create party policies now, unlike in the Kilicdaroglu era.

“Many tasks that were previously carried out through advisors have been given to the party’s elected officials,” she said.

“With the 2017 constitutional amendment, Turkey switched from a parliamentary system to an executive presidential system and parliamentary control methods against ministers were restricted,” she recalled.

“This means that you only have the right to speak to the minister for a few minutes once a year. However, ministries need to be audited at all times, not once a year, and this audit must be done systematically. I believe our new management scheme will give a serious benefit to this,” Gokcen explained.

Not just younger – more gender-equal, too

The CHP is now more female and younger than ever before. No party had achieved this before. There were repeated promises. But those promises fell on deaf ears in Turkey’s patriarchal politics.

“Erdogan has 18 ministers. One of them is female and 17 are male. In the CHP, the shadow cabinet consists of nine women and nine men,” Gokcen noted.

She maintains that in 2023, the centennial year of the Turkish republic, Turkish women “reject a politics that sees women as nothing more than family”.

The younger generation’s representation is one of the most important aspects of the new CHP administration.

“Young people’s participation in politics has been a matter of debate for many years. Young people struggled for representation in the Republican People’s Party. The contribution and support of our 7th Chairman, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, was very important. Our Chairman Ozel also took another big step towards rejuvenation. The average age in our party assembly and Central Executive Board has dropped significantly. For the first time in history the party assembly consists of such a large number of young people,” Gokcen said.

She says the young generation’s participation in politics is important because the young are paying the highest price for President Erdogan’s autocratic rule and need to recover hope and trust in politics.

“Young people are the most insecure segment of Turkey today. The organic representation of those who are worried about their future, who are in the process of making decisions about their lives, and who feel the anxiety themselves, makes politics more genuine and sincere,” Gokcen said.

Justice system in crisis – again

As a role model for women and young in politics, Gokcen’s job as shadow justice minister is not an easy one.

Turkey’s justice system was put in yet another crisis by Erdogan recently, when the Supreme Court of Cassation filed a criminal complaint against the members of the Constitutional Court, after it ordered the release of Can Atalay, a jailed Workers’ Party of Turkey MP.

According to the Turkish constitution, the Constitutional Court is the highest court in the country and its decisions are final. There is no right to appeal.

But President Erdogan and his allies have backed the Supreme Court of Cassation and have undermined the Constitutional Court’s authority.

“The Supreme Court of Cassation has no authority to give instructions to the legislature. The statements of Erdogan and his ally [Devlet] Bahceli [leader of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party] are an indication that this state crisis was produced and magnified under instructions from the palace [of President Erdogan],” Gokcen said.

The opposition, experts and rights group have called the recent crisis a judicial coup attempt. However, Erdogan and allies have instead called for a constitutional change – eyeing a new political front ahead of local elections in March 2024.

“We firmly reject such a coup attempt. We do not accept a constitutional amendment in this context. We will continue to defend the rule of law through democratic means, both in the parliament and on the streets, with our people,” Gokcen concluded.

Source : Balkan Insight