Monday, February 24, 2014

The Major Contenders: The AKP and CHP (Turkey Local Election coverage 2014, 3)

Less than 5 weeks away, on March 30, the Turkey’s local elections will take place. There is no doubt that following the December 17 corruption probe the state of politics in Turkey has become precarious to say the least.

As the AKP government does its utmost to block the daily allegations of corruption emerging, it is passing new laws at record speed; one of these laws, is the recent Internet Law, that has been criticized both domestically and globally, as violating freedoms of internet users in the country. Despite all government efforts, Prime Minister Erdogan’s private conversations are being leaked daily, which appear to link him to corruption scandals and directly pressuring media to remove critical content.

Due to this atmosphere, the local election campaign had seemed almost if it had been postponed. However, this past week, we see that at last election time is here, and in full force! Despite the political earthquake however that has taken place in Turkey, for now it appears that the AKP will still come out on top, retaining its comfortable lead over the opposition CHP party. 

The 2009 Election Results: How much will this map change in the upcoming elections? To visit this interactive map see: to Al-Jazeera Turk's election coverage 

While Erdogan is calling this current round a “referendum” of his performance, we have to remember that he declared the same in the 2009 local elections; during that election his party actually lost popular vote (38%) compared to the 2007 national elections (46.47%). Well, despite the comparatively weak performance in 2009, in the 2011 national elections, the AKP hit its all time high, raking in 49.49% of the total vote. In other words, the local elections, even if serving as a possible indicator, cannot predict what will happen in national ones. Therefore, it should be clear that even if AKP drops, which it very well could, this does not necessarily spell long term problems for the party.

However, having said this, there are some developments in the Turkish political map that could serve as a sign of major change. First, the opposition CHP party has systematically consolidated power: in the national elections, it has grown from 19.38% in 2002 to 25.9% in the 2011 elections; in the last local elections it raked in 23% of the vote. If the party continues the trend of convincing the public that it is interested in becoming an inclusive party based on a liberalism, and not on its previous conservative secular tradition, it certainly could reach 30% in the 2015 national elections (not bad at all in a parliamentary system). In other words, while the AKP can afford to lose votes as incumbent party, it is crucial that the CHP will show marked improvement in the local elections in order to keep its electoral base energized and the momentum going.

The Million Dollar question of the upcoming local elections is if the CHP has a chance at taking the two largest municipalities, Istanbul and Ankara. First, while Ankara is important, if the CHP’s Istanbul candidate, Mustafa Sarigul, were to take the greater municipality it would send shock waves throughout the Turkish political system; Istanbul’s greater municipality has been under Muslim conservative parties since 1994, when the now Prime Minister of Turkey, Erdogan, swept it away from the CHP, as the representative of Necmettin Erbakan’s Refah Party.

There is no doubt that Sarigul has the experience (and charisma) to overtake the incumbent AKP mayor, Kadir Topbas, who lost respect in the eyes of many during the Gezi protests and following, having succumbed to the wishes of Erdogan, who often acts as if he is still the mayor of his home city. The question for Sarigul will be if this is enough to pass Topbas, who despite what I said still has major support among different sectors; in an upcoming blog I will address this more in detail. I will also look at CHP’s candidate Mansur Yavas, who also seems determined to his most to push out AKP incumbent Melih Gokcek, who also, despite what seems to be a decline in his support, still appears to have a strong power base.

In the next blog, I will address the current situation of the nationalist MHP party, and the mostly Kurdish/Leftist BDP and its sister party, the HDP. Of course, there will be more to come on the Istanbul and Ankara race. To be continued…..

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