upa-admin 01 Mart 2024 414 Okunma 0

Türkiye will have another democratic process on March 31, 2024. This time, Turkish people will go to the ballots to choose the mayors of 81 cities and 922 districts as well as members of the city councils. The elections symbolize more than an ordinary local election as the country has been dragged into a competitive authoritarian political system in recent years with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan increasingly becoming the sole and unchallenged political authority in the town within the recently adopted hyper-presidential system. The divided opposition on the other hand trusts the poor economic performance of the country in recent years due to hyperinflation and the steady devaluation of Turkish lira. For the opposition, the elections symbolize keeping the hope to change the system and go back to normal/ordinary democratic life in the coming years. In that sense, especially the competition in big cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, and Antalya is very interesting for students of Turkish Politics. In this piece, I am going to analyze the recent developments concerning the 2024 Turkish local elections.

The ruling AK Parti and its partner from the People’s Alliance (Cumhur İttifakı), the ultranationalist MHP, agreed to collaborate and support a joint candidate in 30 metropolitan cities and 29 other cities.[1] This will be a big gain for Erdoğan to stay strong and keep its solid position in right-wing politics against newly developing rightist/Islamist/nationalist parties such as the anti-immigrant Victory Party (Zafer Partisi) led by Political Scientist Professor Ümit Özdağ, the Islamist New Welfare Party (Yeniden Refah Partisi/YRP) led by former Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan’s son Fatih Erbakan, and two other parties split from the AK Parti earlier (Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Future Party/Gelecek Partisi and Ali Babacan’s DEVA Party). However, unlike the 2023 general and Presidential elections, this time AK Parti and Erdoğan’s electoral alliance in the right bloc stayed only with the inclusion of MHP as the smaller far-right party, the BBP (Great Unity Party) did not join the alliance fully and the YRP refused to be a part of the bloc politics. Despite these problems, almost everyone is certain that AK Parti will have again a large majority in the total vote and will have the lead in municipal administration thanks to President Erdoğan’s undisputed leadership and its political patronage system built over the years. Moreover, it should be stated that the opposition was not able to revitalize its Nation Alliance (Millet İttifakı) due to disputes within the bloc following the heavy defeat in the 2023 general and Presidential elections.

İmamoğlu vs. Kurum

The most important and interesting competition takes place in the economic capital of the country, Istanbul. The incumbent mayor from the main opposition party, pro-secular CHP, Ekrem İmamoğlu has been a rising star in Turkish Politics in the last five years due to AK Parti’s unfair treatment and policies targeting him. Winning the municipal race with a slight majority in March 2019 as an unknown young politician, İmamoğlu first faced the annulment decision from YSK. In June 2019, İmamoğlu this time had a landslide victory and became the number 1 enemy of the ruling bloc. With his successful PR campaigns and natural leadership ability, İmamoğlu soon became the second most famous man in the country after President Erdoğan and has begun to be treated as the next President. But before the 2023 Presidential election, when there was strong support for his candidacy as the opposition leader, İmamoğlu faced another great injustice as a court tried to bring a political ban on him because of a political statement. This election is a turning point for İmamoğlu since his victory will almost guarantee his candidacy in the next presidential election as the leader of the opposition. Murat Kurum on the other hand is seen as the delegate of President Erdoğan who could bring more services with the support of the central authority. In addition, both parties support division within the other bloc to increase its chance to win. Accordingly, while AK Parti was able to force the pro-Kurdish DEM Party to contest the election with its candidate Meral Danış Beştaş, CHP is happy to see that Islamist YRP decided not to join the People’s Alliance and contest the election with its candidate Mehmet Altınöz. Pro-secular center-right İYİ Parti (Good Party) also decided not to bandwagon with the leftist CHP and put forward Buğra Kavuncu as its candidate for the Istanbul mayoral election. All public opinion polls suggest that[2] İmamoğlu has still a small lead in the race, but the margin is narrowing with the offensive advertisement and PR strategy of AK Parti. In fact, in some polls, Kurum is even shown ahead of İmamoğlu. However, everyone agrees that the Istanbul election will be very close and only a few points (1 to 3 %) difference will designate the victorious side.

Mansur Yavaş vs. Turgut Altınok

In Ankara, although President Erdoğan and AK Parti chose the best candidate among the alternatives, experienced right-wing and local municipal leader Turgut Altınok, it seems like CHP candidate and the incumbent mayor Mansur Yavaş is running for a clear victory. Coming from an ultranationalist (MHP) background, Yavaş’s success should be the topic of academic research as he has been so far able to build a perfect image appealing to both the left and right-wing spectrum of voters. Probably, for Ankara voters, his modest personality and dignified posture also represent the seriousness of the Turkish State perfectly well. Public opinion polls suggest a relatively easy victory for Yavaş in Türkiye’s capital on March 31, 2024.

Cemil Tugay vs. Hamza Dağ

In Izmir, largely seen as a guaranteed post for CHP candidates in the last few decades, strangely, polls suggest that the gap is narrowing and AK Parti’s candidate Hamza Dağ is making big progress. CHP’s new leader Özgür Özel’s shocking decision to choose Cemil Tugay instead of the incumbent CHP mayor Tunç Soyer might also been effective in this negative trend for the opposition. However, I think Tugay will still have a victory against Dağ with a slight margin.

Erdoğan’s speech at Hatay created sensation and drew a lot of criticism

In the tourism capital, Antalya, polls suggest CHP has a small lead with its current mayor Muhittin Böcek against AK Parti’s Hakan Tütüncü. But the margin is around 1-3 % and anything could happen in the next 30 days. Adana, Hatay, and Balıkesir elections also are very interesting since polls prove a harsh competition between two big parties’ candidates. Moreover, Turkish voters’ reaction in Hatay will be a case study for scholars of Turkish Politics since President Erdoğan recently said that Hatay voters should support the AK Parti candidate to have better help from Ankara as an earthquake victim city.[3] Erdoğan’s words are largely perceived as a threat to voters, but many political commentators claimed that this would create an advantage for the AK Parti candidate Mehmet Öntürk against CHP’s incumbent mayor Lütfü Savaş.

Finally, it should be stated that the 2024 local elections represent more than just local elections for many people due to strong polarization in the country based on political views, lifestyles, and proximity to the government. In that sense, although an AK Parti lead is expected, the opposition’s success in metropolitan cities especially in Istanbul could refresh the hopes for a return to democracy. The success of Mansur Yavaş and/or Ekrem İmamoğlu could also pave the way for their presidential candidacy in the next presidential election normally scheduled for 2028. Moreover, the success of new and small ideologically strict parties such as the far-right Victory Party, radical Islamist New Welfare Party, pro-Kurdish DEM Party, and the socialist Turkish Labour Party (TİP) will be compelling for people who are interested in Turkish Politics. As mentioned earlier, Hatay voters’ reaction at the ballots might also be considered a test for the existing political culture in the country.

Assoc. Prof. Ozan ÖRMECİ

[1] https://tr.euronews.com/2023/12/22/mhp-ve-ak-parti-31-mart-2024-yerel-secimlerinde-30-buyuksehir-ve-29-ilde-isbirligi-yapacak.

[2] https://tr.wikipedia.org/wiki/2024_T%C3%BCrkiye_yerel_se%C3%A7imleri_i%C3%A7in_yap%C4%B1lan_anketler.

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccjKYrKPUvk.

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