What will March 30 polls mean for parties?
Although there is less than two months to go until local elections and although they are deemed to be crucially significant for the future domestic political landscape, it’s hard to say Turkey has entered election weather, as all political parties and actors are overwhelmingly preoccupied with the ongoing state and political crisis over a relentless fight between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and the Fethullah Gülen community, or the Hizmet Movement.
It seems it will take a couple of more weeks for leaders of the political parties to gear up their pre-election campaigns. In the meantime, let’s have a look at how each of the four main political parties’ strategies for expectations out of March 30 polls.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AKP have already made clear they regard the upcoming elections as something more than local polls. March 30 polls, in Erdoğan’s rhetoric, constitute one of the most important battle fronts in what he calls “the war of independence” as he outlined in the initial days of his fight against the Hizmet Movement.
Erdoğan needs to secure his 50 percent of votes for his presidential ambitions but will re-calibrate his position and strategies for August’s presidency polls after seeing the results of the March 30 elections. But it won’t be devastating for his party if AKP’s votes remain within the range of 40-45 percent. In the case the party remains below the margin of 40 percent, Erdoğan has to re-consider his plans.
Erdoğan’s very recent statement that the results of the March 30 polls would lead to the eruption of new political actors in Turkey is interpreted in a way that the ruling party would adopt a language aiming to cause cracks within the opposition parties on the eve of presidential elections.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) wants to take the most advantage of the ongoing corruption and graft operation against the government and increase its votes through powerful candidates. It certainly wants to give a heavy blow to the government by winning Istanbul and Ankara, or one of them, but its ultimate purpose is to raise the party’s votes to 30 percent. Protecting the percentage of votes he received in 2011 general elections (26 percent) would not suffice for Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to convince the party roots about his leadership. His Istanbul mayoral candidate, Mustafa Sarıgül, is believed to perform well in Istanbul, which would strengthen his hands for party leadership.
In sum, the threshold for Kılıçdaroğlu’s continued leadership requires at least 30 percent of the votes. An image of a social democrat leader who failed to capitalize either the massive Gezi Park protests or the corruption and graft allegations can hardly survive.
The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) is also punching hard against the government, especially on corruption allegations, but at the same time on the Kurdish peace process. The MHP’s votes are on a rising trend among the nationalists in the Anatolian provinces after the AKP and pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), plus the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have moved forward in negotiations.
The picture Erdoğan gave in Diyarbakır last year with Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani and using the word “Kurdistan” mobilized some of the traditional voters to the MHP’s side, according to research polls and observations. The party is expected to get more or around 15 percent, but is not sure whether it could have a visible performance in big cities. The party’s decision to nominate low-profile figures in Ankara and in Istanbul have been regarded as an unvoiced gesture to the CHP against AKP nominees. In any case, the results from local polls are unlikely to cause leadership problems within the nationalists, as Devlet Bahçeli still stands as an unchallengeable leader for the MHP.
On the Kurds’ side, things are little different. The BDP does not seem interested in making its natural duty of opposition even on many crucial issues like the corruption and graft claims or increasing governmental efforts to curb the freedom of expression through exercising more control on the Internet. BDP deputy Sırrı Sakık said the party does not even care much about the corruption allegations in a clear show that they are solely focused on their political cause, the Kurdish issue. The strategy the BDP has is to appoint well-known and strong politicians to key towns of Southeast Anatolia to make their line of their area of dominancy thicker. Public opinion polls show the party’s votes are slightly increasing in general with the individual impact of politicians like Sırrı Süreyya Önder or Ertuğrul Kürkçü, who are also reputable among leftist groups. However, the most important key for the BDP is to increase its regional influence in the overwhelmingly Kurdish regions and let the Kurdish peace process go on. That’s why they are trying to avoid major criticism toward Erdoğan at the expense of risking their consistent policies they have carried out up until now.