Turkey has been discussing the possibilities and limitations of pre-electoral alliances in the local elections for awhile now. A few days ago, Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), made a call to retain their alliance with the Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
As the MHP chairman stated, keeping the People's Alliance – formed by the AK Party and MHP for the June 24 presidential and parliamentary elections – for the upcoming local elections will serve to the consolidation of Turkey's new government system and its future. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also approached this call positively and said that it could be possible to find a way to maintain the People's Alliance. All of these statements brought pre-electoral alliances to the forefront again. Nevertheless, the intrinsic values of local elections make it complicated to form pre-electoral alliances as easily as in parliamentary elections. Thus, there is a need to focus on the difficulties of forming alliances in local elections and possible ways to solve them. On this point, the diversified rules and conditions of local elections should be taken into consideration in formation of alliances on a local level.
In Turkey, voting behavior in local elections varies either from one electoral district to another or within an electoral district. While it is common to vote for a political party or a leader in parliamentary elections, voters consider other aspects such as regionalism, close-knit relations and candidate profiles on a local level more. One of the reasons for difference in voting rates between parliamentary and local elections for all parties is related to the dominance of these variables on the local level.
The intrinsic aspects of local elections make the design of a homogeneous pre-electoral alliance regulation impossible. Thus, there should be a more comprehensive regulation considering diversified variables in local electoral districts. Different scenarios are expected to be seen on the table in the discussion process. Because the situation of major metropolitan cities is on the top of the agenda, possible scenarios for forming alliances in these cities may be the most debated issue in the process.
In his speech, Bahçeli called it a "historic responsibility" to keep Istanbul and Ankara in the hands of this alliance to prevent manipulations and preserve gains under Turkey's newly-implemented presidential system. Thus, the leaders of the AK Party and MHP attribute a moral responsibility to not lose Istanbul and Ankara to the members of the antecedent Nation Alliance formed by the opposition parties.
When it comes to other electoral districts, it is obvious that there is a need of regulation to frame the possibilities and limitations of alliances. Firstly, it may be difficult for the AK Party and MHP to regulate alliances in some electoral districts where voting rates are close to each other.
For instance, the MHP won Manisa, Bartın, Karabük, Adana, Mersin, Kars, Osmaniye and Isparta with a slight difference in 2014. Furthermore, there are also electoral districts such as Balıkesir that the AK Party got with a minor difference in the latest local elections. It seems that these electoral districts may be at the core of the pre-electoral alliance regulations on a local level. The AK Party and MHP should find a way to deal with the situation of these cities in forming alliances.
The second prominent factor in the process may be governing the position of cities in which voting rates of both political parties have been changing since the latest local elections. After 2014, Turkey experienced six elections including the April 2017 referendum. The results of these elections show that both the AK Party and MHP have been increasing their votes in some electoral districts while decreasing in some others at the same time. If the parties cannot find a way to come to an agreement of these cities, competition may lead to a decrease in the voting rates of both the AK Party and MHP. Thus, both parties may need to make mutual compromises to collaborate in the local elections. Until now, discussions have not focused on the legal basis of pre-electoral alliances yet. The current pre-electoral alliance amendment approved in February regulates alliances only in parliamentary elections. If there is a need to form official regulations for pre-electoral alliances, initial steps should be taken immediately since there are only seven months left to the local elections. At this point, it could be better to analyze different cases such as Mexico and Brazil that have detailed amendments on implementing pre-electoral alliances on a local level.
Consequently, it seems that the issue of pre-electoral alliances will gain high popularity in Turkey's political agenda in the following days. All political parties should clarify their expectations and boundaries in making alliances on a local level. These discussions may pave the way for a draft of comprehensive legal amendments on pre-electoral alliances in local elections.
* Researcher at the SETA Foundation, Ph.D. candidate in political science at Bilkent University