Economic problems at forefront of mayoral polls of Turkey
This column has already described the upcoming mayoral elections on March 31 as a sort of general polls in which two big alliances are in competition rather than local politicians. This description has been made on three parameters.
First is about political environment. Turkey held presidential and parliamentary elections in June 2018, less than a year, and started to implement an executive-presidential system under the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rule.
The People’s Alliance, made by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), consider the local elections as the continuation of June polls in order to cement Erdoğan’s rule at the local level. That’s why the core of their campaign is based on the need of Turkey’s fight against foreign and internal enemies so that it can survive.
“If Turkey stumbles, our adversaries who are eyeing new plots against us will rejoice,” Erdoğan was quoted as saying at a meeting last week. Both Erdoğan and MHP Chairman Devlet Bahçeli often accuse rival Nation Alliance, composed by the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Good (İYİ) Party, of aligning with Turkey’s adversaries Turkey, and of siding with the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) as well as with the terror organizations, the PKK and the FETÖ.
“The objective of these parties who should never come together under normal conditions must be something much more than winning one or two municipalities,” Erdoğan also said. He further clarified what he meant through a Tweeter message last week under the title of “Today, two alliances are facing each other in Turkey.”
Describing the Nation Alliance as “vile”, Erdoğan argued that it was under the control of PKK and FETÖ with the objective of electing people associated with terrorism to the local municipalities.
The strategy of the opposition, however, seems to be based on not responding to every accusation of Erdoğan in a bid to avoid political quarrel with Erdoğan and Bahçeli. Both CHP’s Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and İYİ Party’s Meral Akşener tend to concentrate on the main political and economic problems of Turkey in a bid to stop the government’s efforts to conceal them. They are trying to give more room to the candidates so that they can better explain their promises to their electorate in a more peaceful way.
One last aspect of this political environment is that the components of both alliances, Erdoğan-Bahçeli and Kılıçdaroğlu-Akşener will hold joint rallies in the coming weeks.
The second parameter is about the methodology of selecting the municipal candidates. I will not go in detail on this aspect as this column on Jan. 30, 2019 under the title of “Not all politics is local in Turkey” had a close look into the fact that candidates were selected not because they can best address the problems and the needs of that constituency but as a result of compromise between the elements of that particular alliance.
The third parameter one can talk about is the nature of the promises of the municipal candidates, especially of big metropoles İstanbul, Ankara, İzmir, Adana and etc. Promises voiced by all the candidates are moving beyond municipal services, such as resolving the traffic problems, addressing environmental needs and infrastructure investments.
Resolving unemployment problem by creating jobs -CHP’s Istanbul candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu suggests to create 200,000 jobs-, supplying cheap and healthy food, supporting the creation of start-ups are only a few of this sort promises one has been hearing in the general elections.
In addition to these, the government is in efforts to use a recent hike in food prices through setting up a new chain of municipal mechanisms in which vegetables and fruits are sold at a reasonable price. The opposition, however, is harshly criticizing the government for obliging the low-income segments of the society to queue to supply their needs.
It’s a clear indication that economic problems are so huge that even local mayoral candidates –from both the opposition and the government- cannot turn a deaf ear to them. In the light of all these and with the fact that there are still four weeks to go to polls, it’s pretty sure we will observe a more aggressive political campaign by both alliances.