Turkey’s main opposition CHP fails to reach beyond coasts and metropoles

Turkey’s main opposition CHP fails to reach beyond coasts and metropoles

Amid widespread claims of fraud and ballot manipulations, the local elections held on March 30 once again showed a clear picture: Turkey’s social democrat party is stuck in the country’s West and the metropolises.

According to the votes cast for provincial assemblies, which give a clearer picture because it eliminates the candidate factor, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) received 25.6 percent of the total votes, while the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) received 43.3 percent. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) had 17.7 percent. The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and its sister party, People’s Democratic Party (HDP) received around 6.4 percent in tandem.

If we consider the results on a provincial basis, we can see the CHP falls much behind its objective of representing Turkey, as it is almost non-existent in the east and southeast.

In four eastern and southeastern cities, namely Ağrı, Hakkari, Van and Şırnak, the main opposition party’s votes were below 1 percent. In 11 provinces, also mostly in the east and southeast, the CHP received below 5 percent.

But the party’s problem is not only in the cities mostly dominated by the Kurdish votes: In 12 provinces, mostly located in the Central Anatolian region, the party failed to go over the 10 percent that is the threshold in the general elections.

The CHP received the most votes for provincial assemblies in only eight cities, although it won six provincial mayoral posts. The cities CHP tops in assembly votes are Edirne, Kırklareli and Tekirdağ in Thrace, İzmir, Aydın and Muğla on the Aegean coast, Eskişehir in central Anatolia and Tunceli, the CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s hometown where the party lost the mayoral post to the BDP.

As opposed to the CHP, the AKP led in the votes in 61 provinces, and is in second place in most of the remaining 20. The ruling party’s worst result was in Tunceli: 14.5 percent.

The results on March 30 are not much different than the 2011 general elections and 2009 local elections. Although the CHP’s total votes for provincial assemblies increased by 2.5 points compared to the 2009 elections, it lost 0.3 percent of its votes compared to the 2011 elections.

Kılıçdaroğlu put the corruption allegations against the government in the center of his party’s election campaign, using recordings leaked to the Internet and accusing the prime minister of being a “thief.”

The results show that this tactic did not work and the CHP failed to reach out to the people who did not vote for the CHP in the past.

The main opposition party needs those votes if it will ever seriously challenge the AKP in the general elections. And for that, it will need to start the addressing issues it has avoided so far.

The top two of these issues are religious freedoms and the Kurdish problem. The domination of the BDP and AKP in the east and southeast is a clear sign the voters want the government-led process to solve the Kurdish issue to continue, and the CHP needs to give clear messages on the problem, instead of letting its nationalist-origin and leftist-origin lawmakers engage in public discussions about the government move.

One other very important lesson for the CHP from the March 30 elections is ensuring the security of ballot boxes and pursuing a proper count. The debate over the results is on its fifth day now as the opposition parties have challenged the results in various provinces and districts across Turkey with serious accusations of fraud.

İhsan Özkes, the CHP candidate in Istanbul’s conservative Üsküdar district, complained yesterday that he was left alone in his fight for a recount in the district where he lost with 8,000 votes.  The party’s Istanbul candidate Mustafa Sarıgül, meanwhile, sounded happy in a written statement announcing that he received more votes than Kılıçdaroğlu did in 2009, and looked eager to follow his footsteps to the CHP leader’s post.

CHP’s fight for a recount in the capital Ankara started with the efforts of candidate Mansur Yavaş, who left the MHP to become a CHP candidate. Hundreds of young volunteers, most of whom were not members of the CHP, worked for over 48 hours in the ballot results to find out  irregularities, while thousands of others  stood on guard in front of election boards, despite police harassment to make sure the ballots are safe.

Yavaş not only emerged as a major political figure as a result of this fight, regardless of the outcome of the appeals in the capital, but also proved that it is possible to gather many people behind a simple and particular objective while also keeping calm.

The CHP must transform immediately if it has any intention of reaching beyond its urban, sophisticated, secular constituency.