At the end of March 2014, Turkey will once again head to the polls to vote in mayors for the country’s municipalities, marking five years since the previous ones, and almost three years since the 2011 national elections. While local elections do not always serve as an indicator for the general public’s confidence in a ruling party, there is no doubt that the upcoming elections in Turkey is quickly turning into a referendum for the ruling AK Party, which received almost fifty percent of the vote in the last national elections.
Actually, it is not the opposition parties that are treating this as a referendum, who obviously know the stakes are high; rather, it is Turkey’s strong Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is pushing this stance. We have to remember that Erdogan is at his best during elections, and during the past few weeks he has been campaigning “full-steam ahead.”
Ever since the Gezi Park protests, in fact, Erdogan has been on a non-stop campaign challenging his opponents, or anyone who has the potential to challenge his hegemony, one-by-one. Most recently, in an attempt to consolidate power within his own party, the Turkish prime minister opened a front against the Gülen movement, or what is known in Turkish as the Hizmet (Service) movement, or the Cemaat (the Society). However, it is still premature to see how the unfolding row will play out in the upcoming local elections. Clearly, the twitter wars between the two camps has showed us just how messy Turkish politics can become.
What is clear is that Erdogan’s constant divisive “powerhouse” politics will most likely lead to a decline in his support, something I already claimed just two weeks before the Gezi protests. However, let us not lose sight, local elections can be misleading; it is important to remember that Erdoğan also treated the 2009 elections as a referendum and despite the opposition parties gaining some ground, just two years later, in the national elections, he swept the ballots, getting almost 50% of the general vote (see my former blogs on 2009 local election, and 2011 national elections).
The key to any true success on behalf of the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), will depend greatly on how dynamic their candidates are, and the party’s ability to open the door to communities they have shunned in this past. In Istanbul, and the other major cities, utilizing the space the Gezi Park protests created without exploiting it will be central; in other words, the party will need to capture the overall population’s imagination, heightening spirits that change is possible.
During the next 3.5 months, I will be covering different aspects of the elections and focusing on how other parties, such as the newly formed Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) and how its candidate for Istanbul, the Gezi protester and MP, Sırrı Süreyya Önder, will influence the race. On the same token, I will be watching if CHP’s choice of Mustafa Sarıgul to run for mayor in Istanbul was a good or bad one (he will officially open his campaign this Thursday). Further, I will give a rundown of the other cities and regions, looking at which parties are most likely to make gains, or hold ground, such as the Peace and Democratic Party (BDP) in the southeastern Kurdish regions, and the National Action Party (MHP), in the western regions and some cities in the interior. Indeed, this election should be an exciting one!
*The coverage will be indexed as seen above in title