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Turkey - Politics - 2019 Local Elections

Turkey's local election campaigning took on the tone and tenor of general elections this year, and survival was the predominant theme in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's campaign discourse. The polarisation between the two main electoral blocs helped the opposition to consolidate itself against President Erdogan's AK Party, and voter turnout was high - approximately 85 percent.

The AK Party went into the elections allied with the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) under the banner of the People's Alliance in 30 cities. Overall the AK Party won its 13th consecutive election victory since 2002 with its alliance taking just over 51 percent of the votes with its closest contender, the Nation Alliance (CHP and the IYI Party), managing just over 37 percent of the vote.

Polls closed in Turkeys local elections on Sunday 31 March 2019 after millions of voters exercised their right to choose the countrys mayors, city council members, ward councillors and neighbourhood officials for the next five years. An estimated 44 million citizens were expected to vote at 142,777 polling places in 30 biggest cities, called metropolitan municipalities. Also, 12.8 million voters cast their ballot at 51,851 polling places across 51 provinces in Turkey. A total of 12 political parties are competing in the local elections.

A total of 12 political parties were competing in the local elections. The major competing parties are the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Republican People's Party (CHP), Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), IYI Party, and Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). Also taking part are the Independent Turkey Party (BTP), Grand Unity Party (BBP), Democrat Party (DP), Democratic Left Party (DSP), Saadet Party (Felicity), Communist Party of Turkey (TKP), and Patriotic Party (Vatan). The main opposition is an alliance between the CHP and the IYI Party. The governing AK Party and the MHP also formed an alliance.

Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party's (CHP) candidate led in the mayoral race in Istanbul, the country's largest city and economic center, over the nominee of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), the head of election board said on 01 April 2019. State-run Anadolu Agency data showed Imamoglu leads in the Istanbul mayoral race with 48.8 percent of the votes as Yildirim stands at 48.5 percent, with 99 percent of the votes counted.

The AK Party lost in Istanbul, meaning that the three largest provinces of Turkey had mayors from the main opposition party, according to preliminary results. In Ankara, unofficial results showed that CHP candidate Mansur Yavas had garnered 50.9 percent, with 99 percent of the votes counted. He was followed by Mehmet Ozhaseki, the AK Party nominee, in the capital, with 47.2 percent. In the third-largest city, Izmir, the Nation Alliance candidate, Mustafa Tunc Soyer, was leading with 58 percent votes. Nihat Zeybekci, the candidate for Erdogan's bloc, had 38.5 percent.

Nationwide, with 99 percent of the provincial votes counted, the People's Alliance, which is comprised of the AK Party and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), had secured 51.7 percent of the votes. It was followed by Nation Alliance, a coalition made up by the CHP and the right-wing Good Party, with 37.6 percent. The results showed that the executive presidential system, which was designed to avoid coalitions, has led to a de facto coalition since the AK Party cannot maintain a majority without its symbiotic partnership with MHP.

The ruling Justice and Development (AK Party) has lost mayoral elections in the country's three largest cities - Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir - in a stunning election setback for President Erdogan. The swings in Ankara and Istanbul mark a major setback for the Islamist leader who campaigned hard to retain hold of them. The opposition also retained its hold over Izmir, Turkey's third-largest city. The opposition also increased its support along the Mediterranean, taking the city of Adana from the nationalists and the resort destination of Antalya from the ruling party.

Though the CHP only took 30 percent of the votes as a party, it was able to win in three major cities with the support of the HDP. Ethnic Kurdish-nationalist HDP and the secular Turkish-nationalist IYI Party came together with secular left-oriented CHP against Erdogan's AK Party and the MHP. The Islamist Saadet Party also acted along with this alliance. Managing to keep both secular Turkish nationalists and Kurdish ethno-nationalists within one alliance was a difficult task, but the plan worked, and the CHP gained 21 cities including ten metropolitan cities.

Although Erdogan was not running for office, he became the face of the campaign, rallying tirelessly for months across Turkey, using hostile rhetoric against opposition parties and portraying the vote as a matter of national survival. The decline in urban support for his conservative, religious-based party came despite the fact that Erdogan wields tight control over the media, which hardly covered the opposition candidates' campaigns. The basic problem was that Erdogan was not able to get votes from middle-income earners, who believe that the economy, education and urban administration are not run well.

Together with the IYI Party, the HDP can be considered as the two main losers of the elections. HDP lost important cities Agri, Sirnak, Bitlis to the AK Party; Igdir to the MHP and Tunceli to the Turkish Communist Party.

The HDP is gradually losing its support base in its strongholds in eastern and southeastern parts of the country. This is a significant trend. The AK Party gained eight (Adiyaman, Agri, Bitlis, Bingol, Sanliurfa, Elazig, Sirnak, Mus) of the 17 cities that are densely populated with members of the Kurdish or Zaza communities. The HDP did manage eight cities (Diyarbakir, Batman, Mardin, Siirt, Hakkari, Van, Kars, Igdir) that are traditional strongholds of the party, but there was a considerable decline in the HDP's vote share. The HDP's inability to politically distance itself from the terrorist PKK worked against the HDP.

The IYI Party can be considered the biggest single loser in the election. They gained more than 7 percent of the vote without winning any municipalities. The party's other nationalist competitor, the MHP, gained 11 cities with just over 7 percent of the vote. Being part of the People's Alliance helped the MHP whereas the IYI Party gained no municipalities from its alliance. The IYI Party elite will most likely re-evaluate their party's partnership with the CHP as election tensions simmer.

Opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu won the high-stakes rerun of Istanbul's mayoral race. The results dealt a blow to President Erdogan's ruling party, which had called for the redo of the vote. Imamoglu secured 54% of the vote while his rival, former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, garnered 45.1% of the vote with over 99% of the city's ballots counted. Imamoglu, who is a member of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), said his victory marked a "new beginning" for Turkey. Yildirim conceded defeat in the election shortly after the first results were announced, saying: "I congratulate him and wish him success." Erdogan also offered his congratulations to the opposition candidate.

The contest was personal for Erdogan he was born in Istanbul and launched his political career as the city's mayor in the 1990s. The AKP loss in Istanbul could lead to a Cabinet reshuffle or possibly trigger a national election earlier than the one currently scheduled for 2023.

Municipal elections are comfortable occasions for the dissatisfied electorate to give a warning message to the governing party. It would not change the government, but it gives clear signals to governing parties about the shortcomings of their policies. The Turkish electorate maintained its strong support for President Erdogan but failed to endorse some of the candidates of the governing party.

Strong popular support will give president Erdogan opportunities to make some structural reforms in Turkeys economy and bureaucracy. No elections are scheduled for the next four years at least, and President Erdogan may have enough time to deal with structural problems in Turkey. It seems that President Erdogan will start the reforms within his party by making some changes after a careful evaluation of the election results and his party's performance.




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