by Uğur Deniz – İstanbul
Populist presidents – many of whom are racist and xenophobic and who rise through corruption – are all over the world. How do we confront this monism? The co-chair system is a remedy. The co-chair system, which does not mean sharing seats or dividing power, predicts a fair change from the local to the centre through gender equality. Exemplary experiences to date highlight this.
The Social Democratic Party (SP), Switzerland’s second largest party, has recently adopted the co-chair system. Young politicians from the left wing of the party, Mettea Meyerve and Cedric Wermuth were elected co-chairs of the party. In addition, one year ago, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), one of Germany’s well-established parties, adopted the co-chair system. In December 2019, Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans were elected as co-chairs of the party, but the Greens were the party that adopted this system long before the SPD in Germany.
Alliance 90/The Greens (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), who have been implementing the co-chair system since the early 1990s, are actually the first party in the world to implement this model. After the Greens – whose current co-chairs are Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck – put the co-chair system into effect, this model has inspired other parties fighting for gender equality. Today, the European United Left/Nordic Green Left Group (GUE/NGL), the Greens and the European Free Alliance Group (Greens/EFA), the German Left Party and the Swedish Green Party are among the parties and structures that implement the co-chair system.
A first: A Co-Chair in local government
In the previous articles in this series, we discussed the co-chair system in Turkey and the Kurdish parties that initially launched and practically adopted this model. In 2005, the Democratic Society Party (DTP) became the first party to adopt the co-chair system. The party’s co-chairs were Aysel Tuğluk and Ahmet Türk, and Aysel Tuğluk has been under arrest since 2016. The DTP was followed by the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) which started to implement this model in 2010. Kurdish politicians Gülten Kışanak and Selahattin Demirtaş, who are still under arrest, were elected as the co-chairs of the BDP.
After this, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a collective structure including BDP, adopted the co-chair system. In 2013, Sebahat Tuncel and Ertuğrul Kürkçü were elected as the first co-chairs of the party. Sebahat Tuncel has been in prison since 2016. The HDP, which is the third largest party in Turkey, still implements the co-chair system, and Pervin Buldan and Mithat Sancar are the current co-chairs of the party. The main feature that distinguishes the co-chair system that has been implemented in Kurdish politics from its examples in Europe is that this system has also been implemented at the local government level. The HDP therefore is the first and only party in the world to implement the co-chair system in local government.
The HDP, which implemented the co-chair system in all its municipalities that it won in the 2014 and 2019 local elections, implements this system not only in the municipal administration but also in all its local organizational networks. However, as mentioned in the previous articles in this series, all municipalities that the HDP electorally won, where it implemented the co-chair system, were forcibly taken over by Turkey’s own ‘presidential’ regime (i.e., the Presidential System of Government) and the co-chairs were arrested and imprisoned.
Despite these pressures, the HDP and its constituent groups continue to maintain the co-chair model in the political scene. Some political parties, non-governmental organizations and unions still implement the co-chair system, inspired by the HDP.
The Co-Chair system in Rojava
The co-chair system, which is embraced in Kurdish politics in Turkey and has come to life with different political parties in Europe, has its strongest presence in Syria. The co-chair model in the country was fostered by Kurdish politics during the civil war. The Co-chair model is taken as the basis of all existing institutions in Northern and Eastern Syria. The co-chair system is applied in all structures such as councils, political parties and assemblies that are included in the confederated structure and autonomous administrations.
It should be noted that another place where the co-chair system is implemented is Shengal. The Shengalians , who were attacked by ISIS and subjected to genocide in 2014, are implementing the co-chair model in their autonomous areas that they gained as a result of long struggles.
Pluralism against monism
Today, populist presidents – many of whom are racist and xenophobic and who rise through corruption – can be seen all over the world. These presidents are both a symbol of “masculinity” and “monism”. The co-chair system is the opposite of this. With the words of the HDP Women’s Assembly Spokesperson Ayşe Acar Başaran, it is necessary to underline that co-chair system or equal representation is not just about sharing two seats and dividing the powers: “The co-chair system is a move against male domination that has been organized for centuries. It is to ensure the sharing of power against the monopolization of power. It is the establishment of the understanding of local governments with a women’s perspective”.
The co-chair system – which is based on gender equality against male-dominated regimes, prioritizes local-fragmented organization against central governments, and nurtures anti-government movements – can be the antidote to male dictatorship, the cult of the leader, the rule of one person or “presidents”. It effective functioning can be witnessed in Rojava where the co-chair system can and does advocate pluralism over monism.