According to experts interviewed by Deutsche Welle Turkish service, the loss of some major cities by AKP on March 31, or a 50 percent vote total for AKP-MHP alliance could have short and long-term consequences: the opposition could come early with a demand for general elections or alliances could be broken up.
More of a general election
The March 31st local election campaign is more of a general election, and it is one of the biggest questions of survival for the two competing coalitions who will win in Ankara and Istanbul.
According to the surveys of various polling companies, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Mansur Yavaş is leading in Ankara. In Istanbul, Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate Binali Yildirim is ahead, but the leader of the CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu said his disadvantage is decreasing gradually. President Tayyip Erdoğan argues that there is inconsistency in the polls and that huge rallies are the best survey for him.
Why is the local election important?
The reason why these elections are important is the possibility of changing hands of the municipalities in Ankara and Istanbul, which have long been seen as the stronghold of the AKP, and the consequences that this could bring to politics.
”Repeating April 16“
Political Scientist Deniz Yıldırım says that the change of mood of local elections into a general election is at the same time a preference of both the ruling party and the opposition, but he says he sees President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as the main factor.
Yildirim said, ‘Erdogan believes that local candidates cannot have as much impact as he wants, and he is sorting the campaign himself out again by consolidating voter support around himself and national issues.’
According to Deniz Yildirim, after the referendum on the constitutional amendment at 16 April (which granted Erdogan executive powers), the debate on the Presidential Government System continued. For this reason, he says, ”for the last two years there has been a kind of repetition of the 16 April referendum” whether it be called a local or a general election—referring to 24 June 2018 general elections.
Konsensus Research CEO Mr. Murat Sarı said that the election campaigns were conducted in the general election mood. Murat Sarı says that there is a serious economic crisis and that citizens are overwhelmed by it. He says; ‘However, the crisis is not something that can be solved by the local authorities, so the mood is spreading towards national issues and politicians automatically.’
If the metropolitan cities change hands, there may be a demand for early general elections
In the local elections, the conquest of big cities, especially Ankara and Istanbul, is symbolic for the parties. But more importantly, in metropolitan cities where the vast majority of voters are gathered, parties have the opportunity to expand their voting bases by catering to large populations directly with the services they promise.
In the 1994 local elections, the Refah Party, led by Necmettin Erbakan, won Istanbul and Ankara, and Erdogan, with 25 percent of the vote, was elected Mayor of Istanbul and took an important step for his political career. Since then, he did not lose any elections.
In this context, the change of hands in the metropolitan cities is not only a ‘local’ but also ‘general’ politics topic. There is is also the possibility that the opposition will demand an early general election in the case they win in the big cities.
Mr. Mehmet Ali Kulat from MAK Research stated in their recent research that the AKP-MHP alliance’s votes appear in a band of 45-47 percent, and the AKP believes it would be possible for the opposition to seek early general elections if it gets a vote in this percentages and loses some of the major cities.
Mr. Sinan Ülgen, the chairman of Istanbul Economics Research, looks at elections from a different perspective and does not see early elections in the short term, even if the Republican Alliance falls below 50%. Ulgen explains:
“Because in this constitutional order, the early general election brings with it the presidential election. Therefore, it is hardly possible for me to think that Erdoğan would go to early elections in a situation where this would reduce his term in the office.”
Economy can be voted in the ballot box
Ülgen points out that the loss of metropolitan cities could loosen the AKP-MHP alliance. However, he says that this would not have any effect in the short term, and he added; ‘In the long run, the course of politics will be shaped by how the administration manages the economic downturn.’
Konsensus Research Manager Murat Sarı, too, draws attention to the importance of economy. According to Murat Sarı, when the general dissatisfaction of voters in Turkey increases, particularly in relation to the economy, the results of the local elections become a warning for the current ruling party.
Election results can shatter alliances
Meanwhile, another important feature of March 31 is that, Turkey’s local elections to be conducted for the first time, with alliances. It will be the first time that a local alliance will have an impact on the results, and what will be the fate of the alliances after the election, is another topic of discussion.
Political Scientist Yıldırım said; depending the results, in both alliances there can be dispersions or cracks. In case AKP-MHP alliance end up with the appearance of losing support, continuing it will be more controversial said Yıldırım and added, ‘If they fall below 50 percent; in our new system of governance, a debate about the legitimacy can be initiated.’
In the case of a failure by opposition, the breakdown of the Nation Alliance, a new convention process for the CHP (to topple chairman Kilicdaroglu) and assimilation of İYİ Party by MHP are among the predictions of Yıldırım.