The impact of electoral alliances on local elections

Published 15.12.2018 02:23
Updated 15.12.2018 09:54

Turkey's political system has recently undergone a fundamental change. Going back to the Imperial Edict of Gülhane, the 150-year-long parliamentary system has been replaced by a brand new presidential system. It will take time for us to fully grasp the administrative significance of this structural transition and what effects this massive transformation in Turkey's political system will have in the long run. It also remains to be seen how these dramatic changes in each political realm, from the administrative structure of the state to the role and status of political parties, will pan out.

In the field of urban management, it is well-known that a proper line of planning might bring forward urban tranquility, while an improper one will conclude with urban discontentment or even chaos. In a similar vein, a line of planning in an urban realm brings about among its residents either a feeling of security or insecurity strengthens either the feeling of coexistence or alienation.

As in urban management, fundamental changes in political management have drastic repercussions in political and social life. One of the prospective consequences of such a massive political transformation will appear in the long run as the weakening of the significance of political parties and the strengthening of the role of the presidency and presidential elections.

Still, one of the immediate consequences of the new presidential system has been realized in electoral alliances. In the former parliamentary system, the political party that received the majority of the votes formed the government. In the current presidential system, on the other hand, the government can only be established by political parties that could secure at least 51 percent of the votes. Thus, electoral alliances between political parties have become permanent political alliances.

Escalating between the electoral bar of 40 percent and 50 percent, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) took at least 40 percent of the votes thanks not only to its services and investments but also to its accurate communication with the Turkish electorate. In the periods when the Turkish economy was booming, the AK Party's votes even reached above 50 percent. It is, in fact, a curious fact that when the ruling AK Party lost some of its votes, such electoral losses were not due to strong criticism ofopposition political parties, but worsening economic conditions. What's more, these votes always turn back to the AK Party's ballot box as soon as economic indicators have recovered.

Local elections will not be exempt from the impact of the new presidential system. Between the 1980s and 1990s, when the political spectrum had been highly disorganized, a political party could have easily won the mayor's office of a city by taking as low as 25 percent of the votes. For instance, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won the Istanbul metropolitan municipality election with 25 percent of the votes, when his main rivals, the Motherland Party's (ANAP) İlhan Kesici and Republican People's Party (CHP) Zülfü Livaneli took 22 percent and 20 percent of the votes, respectively. Therefore, an unexpected candidate could have won a municipality, while a seemingly insignificant change in electoral realignment could have changed the winner of local elections in a particular city. One day before the local elections of 1994, no newspaper predicted the electoral triumph of the Welfare Party. Although these newspapers were undoubtedly pursuing a politically biased brand of journalism, the disorganized structure of the political spectrum had rendered the elections open to surprise.

Both the ruling AK Party and the main opposition CHP have been strong in Istanbul, İzmir and Ankara where the winner has traditionally taken almost 50 percent of the votes. Thus, both the AK Party and the CHP feel obliged to raise their votes to win Turkey's main metropolitan municipalities. Although the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) succeeds in protecting its votes, its rivalry with the Good Party (İP) raises difficulties for both of these Turkish nationalist political parties in winning a municipality single-handedly. As a result, electoral alliances emerge not merely as beneficial, but mainly as indispensable for all political parties. Although the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) has not yet included in any electoral alliance, the CHP requires their support to win at least the invaluable municipality of Istanbul.

Therefore, the CHP seems to be caught between a rock and a hard place. According to electoral surveys conducted by the GENAR Research Institute, 70 percent of the CHP's grassroots are strongly against the formation of an alliance with the Kurdish nationalist HDP. Nonetheless, the CHP will certainly form a tacit alliance with the HDP in Istanbul. In short, each political party will compete in local elections with the motives determined by the new presidential system.

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