The Republican People's Party (CHP) viewed the March 30 local elections as a stepping stone to success in the 2015 parliamentary elections. Having been unable to challenge the ruling AK Party before, the Republican leadership devised a strategy where winning key districts such as the Istanbul Metropolitan would deal a fatal blow to the country's seemingly invincible center-right government.
Early results of yesterday's elections, however, indicate that the main opposition's ambitious game plan - despite some overall improvement - did not exactly pay off.
Over the past months, the CHP leadership concentrated its efforts on winning Istanbul and Ankara, conservative strongholds since the early 1990s, while clinging onto İzmir, Eskişehir and Antalya. CHP supporters also believed that they could win Hatay, where the incumbent switched from the AK Party to the CHP months before the election, and Tunceli, CHP chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's hometown.
According to early results, the main opposition failed to claim Istanbul Metro - Turkey's largest electoral district with over 10 million voters - while Ankara remained contested until later during the night with an 8-point lead for incumbent Melih Gökçek. Meanwhile, there were no bad surprises in Republican stronghold İzmir where the CHP enjoyed a comfortable lead.
In Eskişehir, three-term incumbent Yılmaz Büyükerşen, who won by 14 points in 2009, led by a 3-point margin with over 40 percent of the votes counted. What came as a shock for many CHP specialists, however, was the AK Party's (tentatively) successful attempt to reclaim Antalya, the home district of former CHP leader Deniz Baykal.
Details aside, what message did voters send to the main opposition? First of all, the local elections made it clear that last summer's urban revolts and the ruling party's recent fallout with the Gülen Movement channeled the somewhat scattered conservative vote toward the AK Party even though the CHP improved its electoral performance by approximately 3 percent.
Against the backdrop of relatively favorable circumstances, election results indicated that the Republican opposition will have to work harder to reach out to new voter blocs and persuade the general population, including more moderate AK Party supporters, that it represents a genuinely viable alternative to the ruling party. Inevitably, the main opposition will have to reassure unconvinced voters that it will approach the Kurdish peace process, among other popular policies, favorably -an initative that the CHP leadership briefly supported last year. The party's gradual move toward a more moderate position regarding the Kurds and religious Sunni Muslims, however, represents a step forward for many independents.
Briefly put, the March 30 elections represented neither a historic victory nor a humiliating loss for Turkey's main opposition party. The evidence suggests that short-term solutions such as nominating popular politicians from other opposition parties failed to bring new supporters to the opposition ranks. The guiding principle, therefore, must be to develop solid, long-term alternatives to the ruling AK Party government and present voters with a better story about the country's future.