How to interpret Turkey's local election results

Published 08.04.2019 00:32
Updated 08.04.2019 00:34

Turkey held municipal elections on March 31. Although the official outcome in some provinces remains unclear due to objections, the picture is generally clear: The People's Alliance, which consists of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), was the clear winner with 53 percent of votes. The Nation Alliance between the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Good Party (İP), in contrast, won just 37 percent.

The AK Party managed to beat expectations, receiving 45 percent, despite the regular wear and tear of 17 years in power and an economic recession that directly impacts Turkish citizens. Provided that the movement received the same share of the vote in the 2014 local election, it is possible to conclude that the AK Party remains as popular as it was five years ago. So why did it lose certain provinces? The AK Party indeed lost some metropolitan districts and provinces to the opposition, but it also won in some districts previously under opposition control, including former Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) strongholds like Şırnak and Ağrı.

The AK Party indeed lost some metropolitan districts and provinces to the opposition, but it also won in some districts previously under opposition control, including former Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) strongholds like Şırnak and Ağrı.

Although a recount is still underway, the ruling party appears to have lost capital Ankara to CHP by 2 points. In Istanbul, where CHP candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu led the polls according to unofficial results, had a slight advantage of less than 20,000 in a city with 10 million voters.

Following objections from the AK Party, the election commission is now reviewing some of the votes that had been declared void. Whether or not it is the winner of the mayoral race changes, the AK Party will maintain its majority in the municipal council and control a notable portion of Istanbul districts.

It is possible to make two points about the main opposition CHP. The Nation Alliance, which it is a part of, performed as expected. The CHP benefited disproportionately from its partnership with the İP. Even though it could not win any mayoral races, it helped the CHP beat the AK Party in some districts. Moreover, the CHP's Kemalist-leftist ideology has transformed since Turkey's switch to the presidential system. The party appears to have parted ways with its traditional Jacobinist rhetoric and endorsed ideology-free candidates in various cities to win mayoral races.

For instance, the CHP candidate in Ankara, Mansur Yavaş, was a conservative nationalist. After the election, the mayor-elect put up signs across the city that read: "Come on, let's go, bismillah!," using an Islamic phrase. Likewise, the CHP's mayoral candidate in Istanbul visited mosques, recited the Quran and made frequent references to religious values on the campaign trail. To say the least, this is an unconventional situation for CHP and Turkey. Clearly, the main opposition party has come to terms with the fact that it needed to cozy up to conservatives to win in Turkish politics. Although the CHP opted for such cosmopolitan candidates in heavily contested parts of the county, it did nominate followers of the CHP ideology in safer parts: The CHP candidate in Izmir, Tunç Soyer, immediately comes to mind. Another case in point was the county of Hopa in Artvin, where the mayor's first order of business was to play Mozart on the municipality's public announcement system – however reminiscent of China's Maoism this may be.

Finally, a quick word on HDP: The party did not put forward mayoral candidates in many cities to throw whatever weight it had to the Nation Alliance. Hence the observable 4 percent drop in the movement's popular support. Yet the HDP indeed suffered major losses. Facing criticism for failing to distance itself from the terrorist organization PKK, the HDP lost Şırnak and Ağrı, which many considered HDP strongholds, to the AK Party.Likewise, the AK Party claimed many counties where PKK terrorists were highly active. The conclusion was that local communities across eastern and southeastern Turkey inflicted a severe punishment on the HDP.

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