After it lost the biggest three cities — Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir — in Turkish local elections 31 March, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) continues its attempts to block that reality from being formalised.
Meanwhile, opposition parties are revising their resources and capabilities in order to achieve even better results in future elections.
For Aykan Erdemir, a former parliamentarian of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will “use different tactics in trying to prevent the opposition from running local governments effectively in Turkey’s leading cities”.
“Between 2014 and 2019, he removed over 100 mayors from office and appointed trustees, in complete disregard of voters’ preferences. There is nothing to prevent him from repeating a similar power grab this time around,” said Erdemir, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies.
“The Turkish president knows that his electoral base is eroding fast, and needs scapegoats more than ever. This tactic, however, will only exacerbate Turkey’s economic woes, as it will further harm the business climate in Turkey and scare away global investors, triggering brain drain and capital flight.”
Erdemir said that Turkey’s “battered political parties” think of the local elections as “a lifeline”, seeing that “when united they still have the ability to defeat Erdogan, despite the uneven playing field in the country.”
He added that as opposition municipalities now control over two thirds of the Turkish economic activity they will be able to “boost the opposition parties’ ability to mobilise resources and followers more effectively”.
“Given the imminent economic crisis, it is highly likely that Erdogan will be forced to call early elections before the end of his mandate in 2023. He can expect a significant challenge from a highly-motivated opposition bloc,” he said.
The opposition political parties also objected to the results in other provinces.
For example, the CHP challenged the results in five provinces, while the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Good Party (IYI), People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and the Democrat Party (DP) did the same in six, four, five provinces, and one province, respectively.
Ironically, the AKP — though gaining the majority of the votes — had the highest number of objections, contesting the outcome in nine provinces.
As an example, the AKP officially demanded a recount of votes in Ankara, establishing its request on basis of “irregularities”, including the non-registration of some votes in the system of the Supreme Election Council (YSK).
“We have applied to the Provincial Election Council with our request to recount votes in all 12,180 ballot boxes,” said Hakan Han Ozcan, the party’s provincial head.
Ozcan claimed that 1,807 votes went to the AKP candidate Mehmet Ozhaseki, while the CHP candidate Mansur Yavas won 688 votes.
The loss was “shocking” for the AKP, especially amid a narrow margin in votes in cities such as Istanbul, argued Mohamed Abdel-Kader, Turkey expert at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
“By objecting to the results, Erdogan hopes that the process of recounting votes will help his party to become the winning side in big cities. The results caused a shock for Erdogan, especially that he participated in the campaigning process himself, and he is now afraid about the domestic image of the AKP,” explained Abdel-Kader.
“The situation will escalate, and a confrontation will happen. This is a recipe for a new type of political crises in Turkey,” added Abdel-Kader.
He pointed out that Erdogan “has been acting in a nondemocratic manner for long time”, imposing a strong grip over the state and media and excluding other actors from the political scene.
The Turkish president made multiple moves in the past years that negatively influenced his popularity, including the detention and arrest of people across different state institutions and media outlets, claiming they are closely connected to Fethullah Gülen.
The US-based cleric was a strong supporter of Erdogan, providing him with the support of his Hizmet Movement in consecutive electoral races. Yet their relationship deteriorated after a corruption scandal in December 2013 that led three ministers to resign.
Erdogan accused Gülen of being behind the scandal and seeking to weaken the AKP’s position ahead of local elections.
Arrests continued after a failed coup in 2016 against Erdogan.
He also banned Twitter and YouTube in March 2014, but the Constitutional Court reversed the decision one month later. The ban decision faced criticism by international rights bodies, as well as Ankara’s NATO allies.
Moreover, 52 per cent of the people voted for a new constitution in April 2017 that removed the position of prime minister, allowing the president to decide on states of emergency and to directly appoint top government officials and ministers.
It also limits the powers of the judiciary, which Erdogan claims is influenced by Gülen.
Regarding the 2019 local elections, the EU Commission’s first vice president, Frans Timmermans, in interview with Welt Am Sonntag, called on Turkish authorities to “independently verify the election result” and the AKP to “finally recognise the result”.
The CHP was the winner in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, winning 48.8 per cent, 50.9 per cent and 58 per cent of the votes respectively.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 April, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Rejecting the vote