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Situation Assessment 11 April, 2019

Turkish Municipal Elections

Will Turkey Continue to be Governed Locally?

The Unit for Policy Studies

The Unit for Policy Studies is the Center’s department dedicated to the study of the region’s most pressing current affairs. An integral and vital part of the ACRPS’ activities, it offers academically rigorous analysis on issues that are relevant and useful to the public, academics and policy-makers of the Arab region and beyond. The Unit for Policy Studies draws on the collaborative efforts of a number of scholars based within and outside the ACRPS. It produces three of the Center’s publication series: Situation Assessment, Policy Analysis, and Case Analysis reports. 


The preliminary results of the municipal elections in Turkey, which took place on 31 March 2019, with a participation rate of 84.6%, awarded the Justice and Development Party (AKP) 44.3% of the votes, enough to win in 15 major municipalities, while the Republican People's Party (CHP) won 37.12 Of the votes, winning 11 major municipalities, including the municipalities of Ankara and Istanbul (the AKP Party presented objections to the results in Istanbul). The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) won 4.2%, enough to win 3 major municipalities, and the National Movement Party (MHP), which obtained 7.3% of the vote, won one of the largest 30 municipalities. The İyi Party (or Good Party) did not win any major municipality but received 7.4% of the vote (Table 1).

Table 1: The number of cities, major cities and the overall percentage won by each party throughout Turkey in the elections of 31 March 2019[1]

Party

Number of major municipalities won out of 30.

Number of city municipalities won out of 51

Overall percentage of vote

Justice and Development Party (AKP)

15/30

24/51

44.33%

Peoples‘ Republican Party (CHP)

11/30

10/51

30.12%

National Movement Party (MHP)

1/30

10/51

7.31%

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)

3/30

5/51

4.24%

Good party (İyi Party)

0/30

0/51

7.45%

Communist Party

0/30

1/51

0.16%

independent

0/30

1/51

0.97%

The municipal elections were run this time through alliances that presented a joint candidate in many cities, and the majority of major cities. The percentages of winning alliances are as shown in Table 2:

Table 2: Results for Alliances in the March 31, 2019 elections[2]

Alliance

People’s Alliance (AKP and MHP)

Nation Alliance (CHP and the Good Party)

Others

Percentage

51.64%

37.57%

10.79%

Number of votes

23978262

17443229

5010255

The Results

The AKP (Orange) maintained the first place but the map of the municipal election results shows significant progress for CHP (red) towards the Anatolia region. The party not only won in Ankara but also, as the map shows, other cities around it, such as Bolu, Bilecik and Kırşehir (shown red in the center of the map), in addition to the city of Eskişehir, which it has become accustomed to winning. The cities surrounding the "Red Heart" from the East and west (shown on the map in blue) were won by the MHP, which moved from opposition to alliance with the AKP after the failed coup attempt in 2016. The MHP won the cities of Kastamonu and Çankiri in the north of Ankara and in Kutahia, west of Ankara, with the AKP (their alliance is limited to the big cities). Thus, there is an arch formed in the west, as a line runs through Anatolia and the capital Ankara to the Black Sea. This area includes most of Turkey's urban and economic centers. This may indicate the impact of the economic and cultural factor in the election results.

Results of the Turkish municipal elections on 31 March 2019:[3]


AKP (Orange)/ CHP (Red)/MHP (Blue)/Peoples’ Party (Purple)/ Communist Party of Turkey — Independent (Grey)

In addition to the AKP's difficulties in the west, which became apparent during the referendum on constitutional amendments in 2017 and the presidential election in 2018, the opposition has become more able to compete in cities that have been considered AKP territory (eg. Istanbul, Ankara and Bolu) Had it not been for the AKP maintaining control over Balikesir Province in the northwest (orange), the CHP would have won every municipality on Turkey's western coast.

The AKP was able to achieve success in the east by taking the municipalities of Şırnak, Bitlis and Ağrı from the HDP.[4] However, this did not mitigate the impact of their loss of Ankara and Istanbul. According to the preliminary findings (before the appeals and objections that are likely to be extended until mid-April 2019), the CHP leads the three largest municipalities in Turkey together for the first time: Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. If the fifth biggest city in terms of population, Antalya, is added, the total number of these cities equates to more than a third of Turkey's population. The opposition has not won these municipalities together since 1994.

Reasons

The following reasons contributed to these results:

  • The deterioration of economic conditions and high rates of inflation and unemployment as well as the decline and fluctuation of currency exchange rates.
  • The opposition learning from its mistakes; taking the values of society (especially religious and cultural) more seriously.[5]
  • The choice of opposition to candidates from conservative and nationalist backgrounds; the presence of Mansur Yavaş as a candidate helped attract the votes of nationalists from the Justice and Development Party in Ankara, despite the alliance of the latter with MHP.
  • CHP in the West won the mostly Kurdish support of the Peoples’ Democratic Party. This support has played a very important role in ensuring victory in Ankara and Istanbul.
  • Opposition candidates interacted with movements in the street, while the AKP relied mainly on the role of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the election campaign.

In the same context however, the AKP managed to gain three cities in the east, namely, of Şırnak, Bitlis and Ağrı, at the expense of the HDP, as a result of the following factors:

  • Communication with Kurdish tribes in the region and obtaining their support.
  • Providing concrete services to citizens through the administration of the "kayyum" appointed by the State for the administration of municipalities, after the removal of former mayors for their cooperation with the PKK.
  • Providing popular Kurdish candidates in these cities.
  • The Ministry of the Interior putting an end to threats by the PKK to voters as happened in previous electoral processes.

In his speech following the initial results, President Erdogan thanked the "Kurdish brethren" for their support.[6] This may indicate the AKP's re-evaluation of its alliances and rhetoric in the light of the existing balance currently among his allies of Turkish nationalists and Kurds.

A Complicated Scenario

The results of the 2019 municipal elections cannot be compared to the results of the previous municipal elections, because they were different from the last elections, in that they were run through alliances. However, the last general elections were fought through alliances and in similar circumstances in 2018, leaving that comparison more useful. Accordingly, the People’s Alliance (AKP and MHP), which achieved 51.6% of the current municipal elections, achieved 53.4% in the last general elections, which means that it has decreased by a small percentage, but nevertheless it has maintained a rate of more than 50%. While some see this as a regression, others see it as ordinary,[7] especially considering that of the 3 million eligible voters from abroad, nearly half participated in the last elections, and they cannot participate in the municipal elections.

It is also important to note that the entry of parties to municipal elections this time, through direct alliances and joint candidates in other regions, made the status of the alliances differ from city to city. That is why it is also difficult to know the true proportion of the vote won by each party; the party whose role was less or greater in reaching a particular outcome. For example, despite the fact that the alliance had 37% of the vote, this percentage was not only of the two parties that participated in the Nation Alliance (CHP and the Good Party). The Democratic Peoples’ Party also contributed significantly from outside the coalition; whereby the party strategy is based on assurance of winning in Kurdistan - the cities of the East - and undermining the AKP and MHP alliance in the West. At the same time, the People's Party has declined to 4%, down from 11% in the last general elections in June 2018. The Nation Alliance has not won any municipality with a candidate from the good party.[8]

Everyone’s a Winner

The AKP has suffered a setback, but it considers itself a winner; retaining its first place in the overall vote, and the number of municipalities, and also won three important cities in the predominantly Kurdish east. It managed to secure 51.6% of the vote, despite the deteriorating economic conditions and othe problems facing Turkey recently. Even in Istanbul and Ankara, the AKP won a majority of seats in the municipal council, despite losing leadership.

The CHP was victorious because it managed to wrest the presidency of Istanbul and Ankara away from the AKP, and because it followed a successful campaign strategy and increased the number of municipalities it won from six in 2014 to eleven in 2019. The results of the elections have firmly established the position of its leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who has recovered from the party's weak performance in recent municipal and general elections. The CHP has been able to garner most of the votes of the Kurdish Democratic People's Party in its favor, despite its alliance with the nationalist Good Party, as a result of its strategic discourse on the Kurdish issue.

Perhaps one of the parties that has nothing to lose in this election is the MHP, which received 7.5% of the vote, despite the Good Party branching off from it. Of the 81 cities in Turkey, the MHP has grown from 8 to 11 municipalities (including one major municipality), while the Good Party did not gain a single city, despite obtaining almost the same percentage of the vote (7.4%).

The good party presence was greater in both Istanbul and Ankara, in the interest of the candidates of its ally the CHP, while the Good Party did not benefit from the CHP votes to the extent that they quailed a win in cities where their candidates were up for election such as Balkesir and Denizli, because the Good party's presence here was initially weak. It is also noteworthy that the nation alliance was able to attract the votes of supporters of the Kurdish People's Democratic Party in the cities where a CHP candidate represented the party, while it failed in the cities where the candidate hailed from the Good Party. At a time when the Democratic People's Party and the Good Party are losing ground based on the number of municipalities and the percentage of votes, the two parties have succeeded in the goal of prizing important municipalities (such as Ankara and Istanbul) away from the Justice Party.

Conclusive Points

  • Voters ignored the attempts of the ruling party to link the elections to the fate of Turkey, instead voting based on economic and social policies.
  • Parties were competitively motivated through alliances, with every vote made important to the outcome; which will make the parties compete more loudly for voters and trying new approaches.
  • Municipal elections in Turkey have been enhanced through alliances and social division in cities.
  • The municipal council in the major municipalities became more important because the mayor belonged to a different, competing party to the one that most members of the municipal council belonged to.
  • The opposition succeeded in overcoming contradictions, especially those between the Good Party (Turkish nationalist) and the Democratic Peoples’ Party (Kurdish nationalist) and managed to reach a mechanism to overcome their differences and support one candidate. The Republican People's Party (CHP) leader, Kılıçdaroğlu, is well aware of the lessons of past electoral processes, which influenced yahis decision on candidates and campaign rhetoric.
  • The candidates of the municipalities of the People's Party of the municipalities of Ankara and Istanbul, such as Ekrem İmamoğlu and Mansur Yavaş, became symbolic figures of the opposition, and these candidates are likely to have a future role in any future elections.
  • The elections were municipal elections, but a 52% victory for the People’s Alliance is a message from Turkish voters that the AKP still has support but needs to secure victory - in any future elections - to reconcile with voters in the West and review its overall of political and economic performance, or else give the opposition an easy opportunity to rely on its recent municipal progress to obtain power.

[1] "The results of the municipal elections in Turkey", Hurriet Newspaper (Turkish), 3/4/2019, Last accessed on 6/4/2019, at: https://bit.ly/2WDzw9l

[2] Ibid

[3] Sabah newspaper (Turkish), last accessed 7/4/2019 at: https://bit.ly/2hjANn0

[4] "Celebrations for the AKP in Şırnak ", Yeni Şafak (Turkish), 1/4/2019, last accessed 5/4/2019, at: https://bit.ly/2USjUSh

[5] Handa Furat, "Election Messages 2", Hurriet Newspaper (Turkish), 5/4/2019, Last accessed 6/4/2019, at: https://bit.ly/2P24VQ1

[6] "Erdogan: My Greatest Thanks to My Kurdish Brethrin", Rodua Press Agency (Turkish), 1/4/2019, Last accessed 6/4/2019, at: https://bit.ly/2I9N1Kz

[7] Nebi Miş, "How to Evaluate the Election Results Digitally", SETA (in Turkish), 4/4/2019, last accessed 6/4/2019, at: https://www.setav.org/en/

[8] "Statement of the President of the Peoples’ Democratic Party: Support the Nation Alliance", Haberler (in Turkish), 9/2/2019, last accessed on 5/3/2019, at: https://bit.ly/2UPoMqY