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Turkey’s fragile local election

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan casts his vote at a polling station during local elections in Istanbul, Turkey on 31 March 2019 [Ahmet Bolat/Anadolu Agency]
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan casts his vote at a polling station during local elections in Istanbul, Turkey on 31 March 2019 [Ahmet Bolat/Anadolu Agency]

Istanbul experienced an historic and breath-taking rivalry during yesterday’s local elections. Two parties have claimed victory as the numbers see them head-to-head. The opposition CHP party won three major cities: Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir; while AK Party maintained the overall majority in the local elections.

This year’s local elections brought to an end a harsh and tense campaigning period. On 31 March, people went to the polls to elect metropolitan municipality and district mayors, mukhtars (neighbourhood officials), and provincial and district councils. Yesterday’s local election was the first election since the 24 June 2018 presidential election.

Economic concerns were paramount ahead of this election as the country has witnessed the decreased in the value of the Turkish lira. The decline in currency has inevitably put pressure on businesses and caused a fall in people’s purchasing power due to high inflation.

READ: Turkey’s AKP and opposition party both declare victory in Istanbul

The major competing parties in this local election were; the Justice and Development Party (AKP) as a ruling party, the main opposition party Republican People’s Party (CHP), Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Good Party (İYİ Party), and the People’s Democratic Party (HDP).

The People’s Alliance (Cumhur Ittifakı), which was formed in 2018 between the AKP and the MHP, agreed to support each other’s candidates during the election “in 30 metropolitan municipalities and 51 provinces”, as they have done in two previous elections. While the Republican People’s Party and Good Party established the Nation’s Alliance (Millet Ittifakı) and they support each other’s candidates “in 22 out of 30 metropolitan municipalities”.

HDP did not form an alliance with any other political party and it also didn’t announce its candidates for mayor in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called this election one of “beka” or survival, which made the election an even more critical test for both the AKP and MHP. Local elections have a broad effect, this is not just a matter of domestic politics for Turkey as the results provide insights in to the next general election. They also highlight voters’ expectations and help parties prepare for the next election.

READ: New Zealand foreign minister headed to Turkey to ‘confront’ Erdogan’s mosque shooting comments

As the most populous cities, Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, are always seen as strategic areas for analysing the winners. In Turkish politics, whoever wins the Istanbul seat yields significant power. In the 2014 local elections, the Justice and Development Party won both in Istanbul and Ankara; whereas Republican People’s Party won in Izmir.

Yesterday’s results in Istanbul are unprecedented as they remain unclear. AKP candidate in Istanbul Binali Yildirim announced his victory while counting was still underway. He later said that the votes were still being counted.

The head of High Election Board said that the main opposition party CHP is ahead in the vote  in Istanbul against AKP, meaning AKP lost all the three major cities. This comes at a great cost to Erdogan and may narrow his domination over power in the country.

“There will be no elections for four and a half years…We will focus on national and international issues,” he said after the results were revealed, adding: “Priority is to strengthen the economy.”

AKP reserves the overall majority with 51.63 per cent of the votes in local elections and maintains its political legitimacy. This gives the alliance the feeling that it is working, however this is a setback from the party’s previous achievements which set it on its way to dominance in Turkish politics.

Yesterday’s results give a strong message to the party and may create a serious despondency within the ruling party. This is the first such setback which Erdogan has faced in his 17 years in power, and as such, it is vital he manages the aftermath in a calculated manner. Economic performances and tackling people’s frustrations will be key to discovering if he is able to pick himself and his party up and get back to serving the people.

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

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