Türkiye’s local elections: What future holds

Türkiye conducted local elections on March 31. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) made the most gains in the elections, which were highly transparent and fair. This was the second time in 22 years that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, could not get a clear victory. The party not only lost numerous municipalities it held, but also suffered a huge decline in votes.

There are several reasons for the decline in the AK Party’s popularity: first and foremost is the economic downfall. Turkish people have been financially struggling for six years now. Beginning in 2018, the currency crisis broke out and grew even bigger with the COVID-19 pandemic. The government’s policies were not enough to end the crisis and its unorthodox policies further worsened it. Then there was a major earthquake disaster, which made the crisis more severe.

The public continued to support Erdoğan, confident that he would solve the problem. So much so that he won the presidential elections a year ago again despite the economic crisis. But inflation, which was expected to fall after the elections, never did. For example, a kilogram of meat went up to $20 (TL 645) and a kilogram of green peppers to $2.5. Fed up with the cost of living, people finally decided to use the elections as an opportunity to punish the ruling party.

Cost of February quakes

It is important to emphasize some aspects of the economic problems that are not (or only partly) caused by the government, but for which the government is nevertheless blamed. For example, the earthquake cost the economy a whopping $105 billion. If the earthquake had not happened, perhaps the economy would have recovered by now. Neither the public wanted to see this additional burden nor the government was able to explain the impact of the earthquake. On the other hand, 2.5 million people retired last year after years of waiting. When the government before the AK Party raised the retirement age to 60, those waiting for early retirement could not retire and demanded their rights for years. Although the AK Party governments resisted for years, they finally agreed to let millions of people retire in order not to lose power. Naturally, the budget balance deteriorated again. As a solution, the government kept pensions low, but faced the anger of pensioners. Another problem with the economy was greedy shopkeepers constantly raising prices, emboldened by the ever-worsening economic parameters. Since the government did not successfully undertake its auditory role, price stability was a distant prospect, thus the people rightly blamed the government.

The second reason for the AK Party’s declining electoral performance is the fatigue of 22 years in power. When a party governs a country for years, people get bored with the ruling cadres. People want to see new faces and want some excitement. Especially the younger generation prefers young leaders. In addition, since they are young, the youth cannot compare the current government with past governments and do not know what kind of difficulties were experienced in the past. This is always a disadvantage for long-ruling governments. So much so that even if the economy is good, the youth’s demand for change cannot be prevented. According to statistics, only 20% of the youth voted for the AK Party.

On the other hand, we can say that society, especially the youth, has become further secularized. The July 15, 2016 coup attempt carried out by soldiers belonging to an extremist organization called the Gülenist terror group (FETÖ) as well as the un-Islamic behavior of some other purportedly Islamic communities, pushed people away from their previous religious mindset. Parents not only did not want their children to receive religious education but they also lost respect for groups that exploit people’s religious convictions for their own gains. Thus, the youth grew up without religious education. Since the AK Party is known as a conservative party, it could not get votes from young people who grew up secular.

Migration issue

Another reason was the migrant problem. When the civil war broke out in Syria, the government opened the borders and allowed Syrians to enter Türkiye. At first, the public did not raise a voice against this very conscientious decision. Because they thought that the war would end soon and the migrants would return. However, this did not happen. When the Syrians did not leave, people started to feel uncomfortable, and racist groups started to exploit this situation. Some complained about the degeneration of Turkish identity, while others about unemployment allegedly caused by migrants. With the beginning of the economic crisis, criticism reached its peak and was reflected in the ballot box.

There is also a reason specific to conservative people. Conservatives found the government’s Gaza policies insufficient. Religious people who wanted more to be done for Gaza were very uncomfortable with the ongoing trade with Israel – for which the excuse was given as that it was merely trade activity carried out by private firms amid the already difficult economic situation, but the public was not convinced. In addition, rumors of arms sales to Israel, which were untrue, had increased the anger of the public.

Some have attributed the defeat to the New Welfare Party (YRP) led by Fatih Erbakan, the son of former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, but this was true only for a few cities. Results show that even if this very conservative party had never entered the elections, the AK Party would still have lost this election. Because those who voted for the YRP were people who were angry with the AK Party. If the YRP had not existed, its voters probably would not have voted. In fact, it is said that at least 6 million AK Party voters did not vote, which is the basic reason for the loss.

What will happen next?

As a result, the People’s Alliance formed by the AK Party and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) lost the local elections. The question now is what will happen next. It is widely expected that the opposition will demand early elections as they are the clear victors of the local vote, and they believe that they will defeat Erdoğan if general elections were to be held. As the economic crisis continues, it is only natural for them to think this way. But Erdoğan has four more years to recover. Rather than calling for elections and risking losing power, he will want to make the most of this time to boost the economy and win back the hearts and minds of the people. But he will have to do this in the next two years since it will take at least another two years to experience a sense of economic prosperity, which may then help regain hearts.

On the other hand, it must be noted that the public still does not trust the CHP despite having elected its cadres. When we look at the figures, we can see that the CHP’s votes did not increase, but the AK Party lost because its own electorate did not go to the polls or voted for the YRP in protest. So the AK Party’s base remains intact. If Erdoğan makes the expected reforms, they will most likely vote for him again.

It is also important to remember that people are taking the issue of terrorism seriously in the general elections. In numerous cities and districts, the CHP has nominated candidates also agreed upon by the Green Left Party (YSP), informally known as the Peoples’ Democratic Party (DEM Party), which has organic ties to the PKK terrorist group. This fact alone plays into Erdoğan’s hands, especially when nationalist voters are concerned.

Nevertheless, I should duly note that all the above-mentioned are just educated guesses. The Erdoğan era may come to an end in a few years or he and his party may win new victories in local and general elections. The likelihood for each option stands at 50% – so let’s wait and see.

Source: Daily Sabah

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Follow us on Twitter


Follow us on Twitter