The alliance system and Turkish local elections

Published 06.04.2019 22:49

Although the recount of some ballots in Istanbul is ongoing, analysts have started to discuss the outcome of the local elections that took place in Turkey on Sunday. It will be hard to summarize the potential outcomes of the elections and their meaning but here are some critical points.

First, in terms of popular votes, the alliance between the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) preserved its 51-53 percent margin in the elections. In three years in three different elections and one referendum, the total vote of this bloc continues to be in the same range. Compared to the June 24 elections, the AK Party increased its vote from 42 percent to 44.3 percent. Considering the state of economic challenges in Turkey right now, many observers of Turkish politics were expecting a result way below these numbers.

Some pollsters had projected that for the first time total alliance votes would fall below 50 percent. Other observers indicated the correlation between AK Party votes and gross domestic product (GDP) growth rates and predicted a major decline in votes, possibly at the 2009 local election level. Others asserted that voters might give a warning to the AK Party in the elections. The results demonstrated a different picture.

On the one hand, by increasing the AK Party vote and having the alliance vote over 50 percent, the electorate emphasized their confidence in the AK Party. However, it is not devoid of a message from voters. Voters in every public opinion poll emphasized challenges they faced. Even President Erdoğan emphasized that there are messages from his electorate, and they will be taken strongly into consideration following the elections. Despite this willingness to send a message to the governing party, the election results reaffirmed voters' trust in the AK Party to resolve these problems

The first statements by AK Party representatives also demonstrate that they are aware of these messages in regard to voters' challenges.

Second, the strategy of the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Good Party (İP) alliance to form a coalition with the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) generated a large voting bloc in major cities. This was more obvious in cities like Istanbul where the HDP did not nominate a candidate for mayor.

The predominant majority of HDP votes moved to the CHP and İP alliance. This raised two questions.

First, the election results demonstrate that tactical voting and alliances will continue to shape Turkish politics in the coming years. The threshold for winning the elections is now almost 50 percent. While the parties will try to consolidate their alliances, they also need to reach voters of the other bloc in elections to achieve more than a 50 percent majority, bringing a new language approach to politics in Turkey. For instance, in two metropolitan cities, Ankara and Antalya, which the CHP won from the AK Party, CHP candidates were politicians that came from a different political tradition.

Mansur Yavaş had been the MHP mayor of Beypazarı, and Muhittin Böcek started his political career after being elected as the mayor of Konyaaltı from the Homeland Party (ANAP), a former center-right political party.

The AK Party's Istanbul mayoral candidate also did his best to present himself a moderate throughout his campaign. This trend may continue in the next election. The parties, especially the CHP, may move further to the center to maintain this trend. In fact, this can be a message of the electorate to the CHP. However, it is not clear how far it can continue without strong resistance from the party's ideological core. A second question concerns the future of alliances. At this point, the AK Party and the MHP present a more compatible partnership in terms of their discourse and policies.

They try to minimize divergences in terms of policies at least at the public level. But for the opposition, this process can be more challenging, given the HDP's role in this alliance. So far, the only commonality among these parties seems to be their opposition to the AK Party and President Erdoğan.

Policy-wise it will be extremely hard to maintain this coalition in regards to critical issues in Turkey.

Third, while the HDP supported the CHP and İP alliance in Western cities and has played a significant role in cities like Antalya, in their strongholds in southeastern Turkey, the party lost three cities to the AK Party: Şırnak, Ağrı and Bitlis. It seems from the early results that the party overestimated the size of the support base.

In the southeast, the ideological core of its base seems to be shrinking in some cities. It is not clear how the party will keep together such a major division in its electorate base in the next election. And it is not clear how the message from its electorate will be interpreted by the party.

Turkish voters, by going to the polls in record numbers, wanted to a send a message to all political parties. Politics in Turkey in the next few years will revolve around these messages and how the parties process these messages. Turkish voters will be watching closely.

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