Foreign envoys puzzled by local election practices in Turkey
“Never a dull moment” is perhaps the most frequently – and fairly – used phrase by foreign diplomats in Turkey. There has never been a single moment since 2013 that left diplomats, journalists and analysts idle, both over the intensified Syria agenda and the constantly election-driven tense and polarized internal political landscape.
The July 2016 failed coup attempt, alone, as an incident being remembered notoriously, which had drastic impacts on Turkey’s internal and external politics, had brought down everything foreign diplomats knew on Turkey to ruins.
The astonishing complexity of Turkish politics that often leads to unexpected developments sometimes makes the picture even more enigmatic and unpredictable.
Accompanied with even further centralization of the governance system in the aftermath of last year’s June 24 elections that brought about communication problems with the interlocutors in different governmental bodies, most of the diplomats and in general foreigners fail to get a clear understanding on many current issues. (To be honest, there are, at the same time, so many issues which even Turkish nationals have difficulty in understanding.)
Here are some current issues and developments which foreign diplomats have questions about:
Why Yıldırım does not resign: As known, Parliament Speaker Binali Yıldırım has been announced as the mayoral candidate of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) for Istanbul. Although Article 94 of the Turkish Constitution openly bans the speaker and vice-speakers from participating in the activities of a political party and, therefore, from running for local elections, Yıldırım refused to resign from his position.
But what has struck the foreign diplomats most was his efforts to bring about a legal explanation to his decision not to resign. “Local elections are not a political activity,” Yıldırım said at a press conference on Jan. 10, in an effort to refute claims that he must resign to run in local polls.
“What are local elections if not a political activity?” a diplomat has recently asked me, without hiding bewilderment. It should be well underlined that this open breach of the constitution by the parliament speaker triggered further concerns over the rule of law in Turkey and deepened skepticisms about the sincerity of the government on a number of proposed democratic reforms and judicial reform strategy.
Can the opposition win Istanbul and Ankara: Foreign diplomats also think that the upcoming local elections have already turned into a sort of general election in which primarily political alliances will run against each other. It’s the first time political parties have established alliances for local polls, a development that explicitly displays how polarized politics and society are. This makes elections very important particularly in Istanbul and Ankara, the two biggest metropoles in Turkey the AKP has been running for the last two decades.
Yıldırım, an AKP heavyweight, will run against the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Ekrem İmamoğlu for Istanbul, while Mansur Yavaş, a nationalist politician, will represent the CHP against another important AKP figure, Mehmet Özhaseki, in the race for Ankara. Although foreign diplomats see a decline in the popular support for the AKP in the post-June 24 election period, they think Yıldırım has better chances in Istanbul, while there is a big opportunity for Yavaş to win Ankara.
Why Mr. Bahçeli is labelling political rivals as enemies: In parallel to growing polarization in politics, the tone and the language used by the politicians are drawing the attention of foreign diplomats as well.
It was surprising for many diplomats to read reports that CHP lawmakers have founded a pool to help leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu pay a huge amount of compensation to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over scores of court cases. The total amount of compensation has already exceeded 1.3 billion Turkish Liras, according to a pro-government newspaper.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, however, takes part in this political quarrel with his strongly-worded statements that often include enmity. In a recent address to his party fellows, he urged his party to work hard for the local elections in order not to allow the “enemies” to rejoice on the night of March 31.
The economy after elections: One frequently raised concern is about the state of the Turkish economy after the March 31 local elections. Many of the measures announced by the government are believed to have a populist nature in a bid keep the economy running and to avoid a repeated turbulence until the local elections.
Many diplomats assessed the fact that the Central Bank decided to move forward the date of its general assembly meeting from April to January to transfer its profit to the Treasury from this perspective. The amount of money that was funneled to the Treasury on Jan. 18 was around 30 billion liras.
These are only a few of the lingering questions on Turkey’s economy and politics, and answers will have to wait for some more time.