Alwaght- Turkey is set to hold its local elections on March 31. This election, first local one since the shift to the presidential system, is highly sensitive. Governors of 81 Turkish provinces will be determined in the upcoming election. The significance of it comes from the fact that it will make an important base for next parliamentary and presidential elections. That is what making various parties struggle for the largest votes especially in important cities of the country.
Local elections 2019 overview
Thirteen parties are joining the local elections, including the ruling Justice and Department Party, Nationalist Movement Party, Republican People’s Party, and People’s Democratic Party.
The parties with a serious presence in the past parliamentary and presidential elections, like the Justice and Development Party, People’s Democratic Party, and the iYi Party, have a bigger motivation for active competition in the upcoming election and named their candidates before others. After the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Republican People’s Party (CHP) is one of the oldest parties in the country. Led by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the CHP was opposed to the shift from parliamentary to a presidential system.
Third largest party is the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) that has Islamist tendencies. Led by Devlet Bahceli, the party is close in views to the AKP. The party greatly helped Erdogan win last year under a coalition with AKP dubbed People’s Alliance.
The People’s Democratic Party (HDP), headed by Selahattin Demirtas, is the biggest rival of the AKP and has the largest support in the Kurdish-majority provinces. The party is at odds with the MHP on various home issues and so is against the MHP gaining the key decision-making post in the country.
In this year’s elections, the AKP and MHP appear to have bigger internal unity than other parties. In addition to the internal unity, winning largest votes in such important cities as Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir will decide the country’s politics.
AKP vs HDP
Part of the AKP fans is the traditional Kurds who are poised to shift votes to the HDP. The CHP and HDP are close in views due to the like-minded leaders and right-wing dispositions and are likely to grab each other’s votes in sensitive moments.
The AKP managed to realize a hefty chunk of its economic goals since its rise to power in 2001. But over the past few years, the Turkish economy performed poorly. Still, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has charisma and popularity enough to make up for the weakening AKP image. With his prominent speeches, Erdogan can unite and guide to success.
The HDP, certain to gain 10 percent of the votes, struggles to lure the conservative and religious Kurds in the eastern and southeastern regions into giving it their votes. These regions are not interested in the leftist agenda of the HDP and that is what drives them towards the AKP, but on the other hand, are unhappy with the Erdogan’s nationalism and anti-Kurdish policies. The HDP now seeks to modify its leftist slogans in a bid to attract these voters.
Competition in important cities
In big cities like Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir, the HDP has smaller popularity. So it tries to coalesce with the CHP against the AKP. On the opposite side, the AKP seeks to ally with the MHP to name independent candidates in cities where the HDP and CHP have larger chances of win and name joint candidates in cities where there are smaller chances of winning.
The ruling party named its candidates for 14 big cities and 26 provinces. Erdogan designated Binali Yildirim, the former parliament speaker, for Istanbul which is seen as the bridge to the grand victory. Latest polls show that Yildrim will garner more than 46 percent of votes in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city. But Yildrim is in a serious cleavage with Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak. He is worried that after the win, Albayrak will press Erdogan to strip Yildrim of his important positions.
Three factions have broken the AKP into three parts on the threshold of the local vote. Albayrak is a leader of one of these factions. Bilal Erdogan is the head of another inter-AKP faction. He tries to influence naming figures who will help him gain further weight in the government in the future. The third faction is led by Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu. The three factions have recently tightened the race for power. The infighting, beside the 20 percent inflation rate and 11 percent unemployment rate, encourage the analysts to talk about the possibility of AKP future breakout.
A panoramic picture of Turkish politics shows a tight competition among the four largest Turkish parties. The AKP has apparently allied with the MHP. But the coalition is not as strong as last year’s People’s Alliance.
The HDP and CHP, according to some diplomats like Bekir Bozdag, the spokesman to the government, have launched a covert coalition. Although iYi Party holds views close to the HDP, in this election does not appear to seek a coalition with it. Meral Aksener, leader of the party, in January said that her party was not seeking an alliance with the HDP and each will name their own candidates. iYi leans to coalition with Felicity Party, a conservative Muslim party.
In February 2018, in a meeting dubbed “right and justice” arranged by CHP, iYi Party, HDP, and Felicity Party, Muhammet Bekaroglu, a leader in MHP and Istanbul representative in the Grand National Assembly, warned that if the four parties fail to prepare themselves for 2019 elections, they have to pay a “heavy price.” Now the experience of 2018 loss has led them to understand the need for alliance. If they proceed with cohesion, they can seize the votes in big cities from the ruling party and beat it. Otherwise, the AKP and CHP, which have been planning and campaigning over the past six months, will gain a majority of the votes in key cities to secure a new win.