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Cablegate: Old and New Ideas at the Istanbul Branch of Chp

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PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHIT #0354/01 1840440
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 020440Z JUL 08
FM AMCONSUL ISTANBUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8283
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHDA/AMCONSUL ADANA 2362
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC
RUFOADA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK
RUEUITH/ODC ANKARA TU
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ISTANBUL 000354

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL TU
SUBJECT: OLD AND NEW IDEAS AT THE ISTANBUL BRANCH OF CHP

REF: ISTANBUL 79

ISTANBUL 00000354 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: In a recent meeting, the Istanbul head of
Republican People's Party (CHP) Gursel Tekin criticized the
Justice and Development Party (AKP), yet provided little
substance to back up his comments. Tekin expects the closure
case against AKP will result in early elections and the
public will reward CHP at the ballot box. In a separate
meeting, Istanbul CHP Deputy Chair for EU and Foreign Affairs
Didem Engin encouraged greater communication between the CHP
and the U.S. Engin blamed AKP for a drop in female
participation in the workforce. She also criticized her party
leaders for lacking new ideas with which to confront the AKP.
End summary.

--------------------------------------------- -
New Istanbul Chairman, Same Rhetoric
--------------------------------------------- -

2. (SBU) In a recent meeting, CHP Istanbul Chairman Gursel
Tekin provided no fresh ideas regarding the party's future or
how the party differs from AKP. Tekin, who became chairman in
January, said AKP has a clear agenda to establish an Islamic
Republic in Turkey, adding he is disappointed the U.S. fails
to see the harm AKP is causing Turkey. While he is not
adverse to meeting with us, Tekin said he has made little
effort to reach out to the U.S. due to its perceived bias
towards AKP. Despite his bitter complaints about AKP
administration, Tekin could not point to any specific
policies where CHP differs from AKP, merely claiming a CHP
administration would "follow the tenets of Ataturk."

3. (SBU) Tekin was uncomfortable with the closure case
against AKP, citing bitter memories of the CHP's ban after
the 1980 coup. He stated, however, that AKP is a religious
party and he understands why those who initiated the closure
case want to see Erdogan and the AKP banned. He expects the
Constitutional Court to close the party, with early national
and local elections to follow. Tekin told us CHP,s Istanbul
branch is recruiting "quality" candidates and targeting a
number of vulnerable AKP district mayors, as well as Greater
Istanbul Mayor Topbas. According to Tekin, AKP attempts to
undermine democracy, such as their Istanbul redistricting
scheme (reftel), are finally backfiring.

----------------------
New Blood at CHP
----------------------

4. (SBU) Didem Engin, Istanbul CHP Deputy Chair for EU and
Foreign Affairs, represents a fresh look for CHP. Engin, a
successful businessperson who, at 30 years old, was the
youngest CHP candidate in the 2007 national election,
received a fair amount of media attention during the
campaign. She, however, failed to enter parliament since she
was listed 14 out of 21 on the party list in Istanbul's
second district and only seven CHP candidates were elected.
Instead, Engin was elected to her current position by the CHP
Istanbul party congress.

--------------------------------------------- ---
Greater Outreach to the US and the West
--------------------------------------------- ---

5. (SBU) Engin supports greater outreach to the U.S.,
attributing the current poor relationship either to lack of
communication or miscommunication. She told us the CHP and
U.S. can be positive partners but agreed with Tekin,s view
that perceived U.S. support for AKP is a stumbling block for
better relations. Engin cited the 2002 meeting between
President Bush and Erdogan as clear evidence of U.S. attempts
to influence the 2002 Turkish parliamentary election by
providing international credibility to an opposition party
leader. Engin asked if Michael Rubin's recent editorial
criticizing PM Erdogan was a signal the U.S. was changing its
policy towards AKP. Emphasizing that Rubin does not speak
for the USG and the U.S. does not favor one party over
another, PolOffs welcomed the opportunity to provide a clear
line of communication with the CHP to avoid misperceptions.

6. (SBU) Engin was critical both of the media and of the
prior lack of CHP outreach, which she claimed has caused
many Turkish and international newspapers to erroneously
report that CHP opposes EU membership. Engin emphasized that

ISTANBUL 00000354 002.2 OF 002


CHP supports Turkey's accession and opposes any alternatives
that fall short of full membership. As editor in chief, Engin
helped CHP,s Istanbul branch start an English language
newsletter intended to deliver CHP's messages to a wider and
more international audience. The Istanbul branch reportedly
held its first news conference with the international press
June 7.

--------------------
Women in Politics
--------------------

7. (SBU) Engin criticized AKP for exploiting women's issues,
claiming that while AKP has a greater percentages of female
parliamentary deputies than CHP, it uses women "only for
show." The only women minister in the current government is
responsible for women and children's issues, she noted,
adding, if AKP were serious about women's issues, it would
have appointed a woman to a more demanding position, such as
foreign minister. Engin further claimed there are no women
managers in the top two levels at most ministries.

8. (SBU) While acknowledging that most women who wear a
headscarf do so freely, Engin charged AKP is promoting a
culture that encourages young girls to chose a
nonprofessional lifestyle. She pointed to PM Erdogan's urging
women to have three children as typical of AKP's mindset. To
further support her point, Engin referred to government
statistics showing a drop in women participating in the
workforce since 2002.

-----------------------
Inside View of CHP
-----------------------

9. (SBU) Engin was critical of CHP leadership for not
addressing the issues during the 2007 national campaign.
CHP's strategy of simply criticizing the AKP was not sound,
as it gave the perception that the CHP had no new ideas and
left the public with a poor opinion of CHP leadership. Engin
said she had little say about the content of her campaign
speeches last summer, adding she avoided talking about
domestic issues, focusing instead on EU and foreign policy.

--------------
COMMENT
--------------

10. (SBU) Engin's election to a leadership position within
CHP is a hopeful sign the party is willing to bring in new
blood with new ideas. The Istanbul branch newsletter and
recent outreach to the foreign press is assuredly Engin's
work; embracing some of her initiatives may indicate the old
guard is willing to play a better media game. However, the
lack of new ideas from the Istanbul Party Chairman shows how
far the party has to go to make substantial changes. Engin's
complaints about AKP treating its women candidates as mere
show-pieces may unfortunately apply equally well to CHP.
WIENER

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