Local elections in Turkey: A setback for Erdogan?

How much is what happened in the local elections in Turkey a setback for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and what kind of reaction do you expect from him?  Read few comments.

Turkey’s President President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Credit: https://www.tccb.gov.tr

Toni Alaranta, Senior Research Fellow, Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Losing both Ankara and Istanbul (and 5 of the biggest six cities) is a major setback for Erdogan. At this stage we do not know all practical consequences, but he is no longer unbeatable. Also, as there is no longer parliamentary system but Presidential system, these local elections can be interpreted as a direct challenge to Erdogan’s rule – mayors are selected through direct popular votes, after all.
Economic crisis surely played a big part of the result. We also saw tactical voting: Kurdish party HDP supporters voting for biggest opposition party CHP in the Western parts of the country, while AKP’s ally MHP won 11 municipalities from the AKP, so some of the discontent fed MHP. By itself (if we exclude MHP’s) AKP won 44 % of votes.

The biggest news is that Turkey’s democratic tradition demonstrated resilience in a very difficult, increasingly authoritarian system.

However, things may still get ugly afterwards. Let’s recall that there is, for instance, newly raised court case againt Mansur Yavas…

Natasha Lindstaedt, Professor, Department of Government, University of Essex

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) said it expected to shift the outcome of local elections in Ankara in their favour through its appeals. That’s not surprising.  I was surprised to hear that they had (I thought) conceded.  This is a dangerous move on their part, because there are now going to many in the urban sectors that will view this move as very authoritarian, with the election results being seen as fraudulent.  He is taking a gamble (because authoritarian regimes are most likely to fall after a case of massive electoral fraud) but he seems to think that he will maintain better control this way.

The recession has hit Turkey hard, and his attempts to buy people off through jobs, and smaller things such as the vegetable subsidization scheme don’t work as well in major cities as they do with the rural areas, where Erdogan enjoys most of his support.  I think the cities are going to start to see more election irregularities to deal with the fact that Erdogan and the AKP are not popular enough on their own to win these races.  This will all be done in the name of national security.  A national emergency could be declared at some point, for example.

Kerem Öktem, Professor of Southeast Europe and Modern Turkey, Centre of Southeast European Studies, University of Graz

This is a very serious setback indeed. It is a loss of epic proportions, particularly in Istanbul. Erdogan started his career as politician 25 years years ago in Istanbul. The city has been the bastion of the AKP for a quarter of a century. It is a city with around 16 million inhabitants that produced almost 50 per cent of Turkey’s economic output. The symbolism of the defat cannot be overestimated. In fact, there is a Turkish saying that suggests “who wins Istanbul, wins Turkey, who loses the city loses the country”.

It is clear that the Erdogan government is going to accept the opposition’s election victory in Istanbul with great reluctance. Yesterday night, it looked as if there would be major manipulations. This has not happened so far, at least not in Istanbul, but there might be challenges on the way ahead. But if the election outcome is indeed respected by the government, Turkey will be entering a new period in its political life.

David Romano, Professor, Department of Political Science, Missouri State University

This is a setback for Erdogan, but one should not make too much of it. If his AKP party had lost a majority of the nation-wide vote it would be a different story. They did not, and these were only municipal elections. The loss of Ankara and the tight results in Istanbul show that Erdogan and his party are vulnerable to a popular backlash resulting from Turkey’s continuing economic woes, howeer.

Umut Parmaksiz, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, TED University

It is an important defeat for Erdogan since both Ankara and Istanbul had been under the control of his party since the early 90s, and having served as a mayor himself Erdogan knows well the importance of a successful local government to attract votes in general elections. As the preliminary results show that AKP no longer rules in Istanbul and Ankara, this is a big defeat for Erdogan -especially the defeat in Istanbul, which was a surprise. However, although the country is going through a major economic crises, AKP still managed to get 44 percent of the total votes and that is not a bad result given the circumstances. So it is too early to say that AKP and Erdogan’s political end is near.

There isn’t an election scheduled for the next four years and I believe Erdogan will try to use the time he has got to get the country out of the economic crises and avoid an early election that could be detrimental to his rule. At the moment there are romours that some former AKP members are going to form a political party to challenge AKP, and an early election in the middle of an economic crises could herald his political end. That would be ironic since Erdogan himself rose to power on top of the ruins of the 2001 economic crises, and he knows well how the economic circumstances can shift people’s sentiments.

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