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Turkish Politics in Turmoil After Resignation of Party Leader


Uncertainty over Turkey's politics rose earlier this week following the resignation of the leader of Turkey's center left Republican People's Party or CHP, following the release of a sex tape.

Sex, lies and videotape are continuing to dominate Turkish politics. A secretly recorded video allegedly shows CHP leader Deniz Baykal in bed with his former private secretary who is now a CHP deputy.

On Monday, in an emotional address to his party, he claimed he was the victim of a government-orchestrated plot to remove him from power.

Such private images cannot be taped and such a plot can't be realized without the knowledge of the government," Baykal said. "So-called well-intentioned statements from the government can't conceal this crime. Those who criticize the plot are the real initiators," he added.

The video emerged as Turkey's parliament was voting on a crucial set of constitutional reforms aimed at trimming the powers of Turkey's military and their allies in the judiciary. Baykal, who had vowed to get the changes overturned, claims that the leak was timed to ward off this challenge.

Ever since the scandal broke the country's media has been awash with conspiracy theories over who was behind the video.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denied any involvement and ordered a criminal investigation.

"The AKP will not take responsibility for issues that do not pertain to it. We took all the necessary precautions immediately and the opposition must try not to blame us for things it is responsible for," Erdogan said. "I wish he could deny these events, but if he can't he should not throw the blame onto others," he added.

But, the veteran politician is not going to go away any time soon.

Observers say his iron grip of the party organization has made it virtually impossible to remove him. Many leading members of the ruling Justice and Development Party openly declare that Baykal is their greatest asset. One minister once quipped that every morning he thanks god for Baykal.

Political columnist of the Turkish daily Milliyet, Semih Idiz, says Baykal's resignation gives his party a unique opportunity ahead of next year's scheduled general election.

"A democracy needs a viable opposition that people can vote for. That people can have alternatives," said Idiz. "The CHP cannot provide that. It has lost a succession of elections under the present leadership, and has not been able to renew itself after those losses. But with a credible opposition then the parliamentary equation becomes much more different, especially in the lead up to general elections. So if the party is able to renew itself after Mr. Baykal, it is in a position to garner a lot more votes," he said.

The resignation of Baykal could also have foreign policy implications, in particular for its bid to join the European Union.

Although Baykal ostensibly supported the country's EU aspirations, he frequently played the nationalist card in attacking EU leaders.

Idiz says many in Europe are looking forward to change.

"There seems to be general joy in Europe that Mr. Baykal has absented himself in this way. He is seen as an obstacle to Turkey's EU path, as well as an obstacle to reform in Turkey. So this is why its very important to have a CHP that is in tune with the EU perspective," Idiz said.

But the 71 year old Baykal is a political survivor. Many of his supporters are working hard for his return to power, arguing that with his experience he is only capable of challenging the government.

Baykal hinted in his resignation speech that there is a chance he could return to power.

"My resignation does not mean running away or giving in," Baykal said. "I will continue fighting against such plots."

Observers, however, say pressure is also expected to grow both in and outside the party for a new leader that could more effectively challenge the ruling AK party in next year's election. The coming weeks are now being seen as potentially crucial to determining the future political landscape of Turkish politics.

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