Municipal elections usually fulfill a dual role in democracies: Primarily, they reflect the demands and appreciation of the voters concerning local governance and they also serve as a litmus test for the national governance. Therefore, the voters use these elections to give a strong signal to the national government, while electing their mayors and lowest-level administrative units known as "muhtars."
Turkey's local governance did not have real importance until 1980, because the budgets allocated to municipalities were ridiculously low. Therefore, a municipality wishing to establish important projects had to have very good relations with the central government in order to get relevant financing. Starting with the liberalization of the Turkish economy, this situation has developed in the sense of consolidating the rights and financial revenues of the local governance.
Today, local governance is very important in Turkey, not because of very important direct revenues big metropolitan municipalities have, but because of the asymmetrical regional development of the country. Istanbul alone produces more than 31 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The Western and coastal regions are much richer than central Anatolia and eastern Turkey.
The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government has always had, since their accession to power in 2002, the advantage of sound economic performance. The only time when this did not happen was in 2009, in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis. Then, the party had its lowest electoral score of less than 39 percent, but still managed to hold big metropolitan municipalities.
This time, the economic crisis is deeper and the recovery from it can take much longer, and that may give the opposition a new motivation. The opinion polls before the elections gave an important increase to the opposition votes, for some, while other polls were showing the continuation of the status quo.
The campaign led by the municipal candidates of the AK Party was barely visible, so long as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan conducted the whole campaign by himself. Probably sensing that a difficult economic situation could turn into a real disadvantage for local contests, he made out of this election a question of "survival." Therefore, by changing the electoral debate into a confidence vote for himself, he tried to stop the bleeding and he became successful.
After first estimations, his tactic seems to have been successful. Maybe not to the level he wanted, but in terms of votes cast, the AK Party and its coalition partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), did not lose much ground. The landslide victory expected by the main opposition party Republican People's Party (CHP) did not take place. On the other hand, the opposition is likely to win most of the western developed municipalities.
İzmir never voted for the AK Party but this time, the capital city Ankara has gone in the hands of the opposition.
The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, which has been under the AK Party control since 1994, when Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected, looked in danger in some of the opinion polls. It now seems that the former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım managed get elected mayor of Istanbul.
These elections will be seen as a draw between the governing AK Party and MHP coalition and the opposition led by the CHP. President Erdoğan, having invested all his potential in the contest, has not lost his face and probably stopped a worse result. Rumors of a "new" party to be established by some former members of the governing AK Party will probably evaporate. On the other hand, the CHP, the main opposition party, will herald these elections as a good victory. Unless there is a huge surprise after the official declaration of the results, President Erdoğan's policies will not be harmed by these results.