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Turkey’s local elections and the fate of the alliances

November 1, 2018 at 2:53 pm

Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) Leader Devlet Bahceli speaks during his party’s group meeting at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, in Ankara, Turkey on 23 October 2018 [Doğukan Keskinkılıç/Anadolu Agency]

Public opinion has for days been preoccupied with the assassination of the famous Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi – may he rest in peace – in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October. This preoccupation is largely due to the strangeness of the incident, the brutal nature of the crime and the danger of the repercussions to follow. However, there are other developments in the Turkish political arena that deserve attention and which are expected to cast a shadow over the local elections scheduled to be held on 31 March 2019.

In a speech to his party’s MPs a week ago, the head of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Devlet Bahceli said that the party would not ally itself with the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the local elections. The two parties had formed an alliance in the early presidential and parliamentary elections held on 24 June.

In September, Bahceli announced that the MHP would not put forward a candidate for mayor of Istanbul. These statements were seen at the time as an indicator of the possible alliance between the AKP and the MHP in local elections, at least in some constituencies such as major cities. In the days following the statement, we witnessed attempts by the two parties to reach an alliance that would satisfy both sides. These attempts failed, which prompted Bahceli to announce that the MHP would run alone in the local elections and would put forward candidates throughout the country, including Istanbul.

The failure to form an alliance between the AKP and the MHP raised questions regarding the fate of the “People’s Alliance” formed by the two parties before the presidential and parliamentary elections. Bahceli’s remarks – in which he confirms that the People’s Alliance will continue – suggest that the two parties will maintain their alliance in the Turkish parliament with regard to national issues related to the security and stability of Turkey.

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Yet there have recently been disagreements between the two parties, most notably the MHP’s demand to declare a general amnesty for prison inmates. The AKP did not respond to this demand, given the widespread popular opposition to the release of prisoners. Also among these differences is the MHP’s support for the Supreme Administrative Court’s decision to abolish the previous government’s decree stipulating the abolition of the student oath recited every morning in schools. On the other hand, the AKP rejects the court’s decision and believes that it has overstepped its authority and reinstated the oath, which contains hard-line racist expressions.

The lack of alliance between the AKP and the MHP in the local elections has both negative and positive aspects. An alliance between the two parties would give their candidate a comfortable win in some cities – such as Istanbul and Ankara – and would enhance the chances of their candidate in other cities considered the strongholds of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), such as Izmir. We can now say that the local elections will witness fierce competition in many Turkish cities.

A percentage of AKP supporters abstained from voting for the party in the parliamentary elections because of its alliance with the MHP, and likewise a proportion of MHP supporters refused to vote in the last elections for the same reason. Most of them are expected to vote for the AKP candidate or the MHP candidate after refraining from voting on 24 June. This will strengthen the chances of the AKP candidate in Kurdish majority provinces and strengthen the chances of the MHP candidate in some western and coastal provinces.

Two alliances competed in the last parliamentary elections, namely the People’s Alliance and the National Alliance, which consisted of four opposition parties: the CHP, the Iyi Party, the Felicity Party (SP) and the Democrat Party (DP). The Peoples’ Democratic Party supported this alliance without formally joining it. These parties are not expected to run in the local elections as part of an alliance, as they did during the parliamentary elections, but there are on-going discussions between the leaders to reach an understanding regarding the candidates all five parities will back. If these discussions succeed in forming an electoral alliance to support the strongest candidate between the five parties, this will enhance the chances of the alliance’s candidate winning against its rivals from the AKP, MHP and others on 31 March.

This article originally appeared in Arabic in Arabi 21 on 31 October 2018.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.