Turkey heads to tensest local polls ever

Turkey heads to tensest local polls ever

As predicted, political strain ahead of the March 31 local elections is in an unprecedentedly constant escalation with harsh quarrels and astounding accusations between the opposition and ruling party’s alliances. For many reasons, one can cite the upcoming elections as the tensest polls in the near history of Turkey, even though voters will merely choose the country’s local leaders.

It’s in this context that the political party leaders are often urging their political base and electorate to avoid any provocative moves and not to respond to any provocation by rival parties.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, in an interview with the private broadcaster NTV late March 18, said: “Wherever I am going [as part of the election campaign] I warn about provocations. Any kind of provocations can be staged on March 21.”

Turkey will mark Nevruz on March 21, a day which symbolizes the start of spring for a number of peoples in Eurasia – from Azeris to Iranians, from Kurds to Kazakhs. Kılıçdaroğlu did not detail the kind of provocation he is concerned about, but has implied that it may target the March 21 celebrations.

These warnings are not just given by the main opposition leader. Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy leader Semih Yalçın issued a circular letter to all the branches of his party warning them about any provocative move against the nationalist party on the eve of local elections.

Yalçın’s letter argued that the Nation Alliance, composed of the CHP and İYİ (Good) Party, is in covert cooperation with the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which stands as the political leg of the PKK in the eyes of the MHP and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The last few months have shown that one of the most important pillars of the AKP-MHP alliance’s pre-election rhetoric was based on accusing the Nation Alliance of engaging in a bargain with the HDP in various constituencies, including metropoles like Istanbul, Ankara, İzmir, Adana, Antalya and so on.

This strong rhetoric is aiming to distance patriotic and nationalist voters of the CHP and İYİ Party from the alliance and persuade them into not voting for an HDP-supported candidate.

What followed this campaign was the launch of an investigation against Sezai Temelli, co-leader of the HDP, on charges of terror propaganda.

As this column suggested last week, controversy over municipal elections for Ankara is seemingly deepening following President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statement late March 18 which urged that the Nation Alliance’s candidate, Mansur Yavaş, will unlikely serve as the mayor even if he wins due to an ongoing court case against him.

CHP sources, however, stress that pressure on Yavaş helps him to further consolidate his electorate and to draw away from his main competitor, Mehmet Özhaseki. They suggest all these accusations and aggressive rhetoric against Yavaş stem from the fact that he is winning big in Turkey’s second largest city.

In Istanbul, Binali Yıldırım of the People’s Alliance seems confident although the gap between him and opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu is narrowing. Erdoğan is expected to spend the last days of his election campaign in Istanbul and its districts as well as Ankara to make victories secure in both cities. The race in Istanbul depicts a rather calmer landscape as both Yıldırım and İmamoğlu seem to merely focus on their campaign and to reach out to as many as people as they can to increase their votes. But still, Yıldırım was quoted as saying in an interview: “We are not going to war, it’s just elections.”

One cannot agree with him more.

Turkey elections 2019, local polls, Serkan Demirtaş