Fresh political tensions ahead as local polls loom

Fresh political tensions ahead as local polls loom

With less than four months to go for the local elections, all political parties seem to intensify their works to establish the best alliance and shoose the best candidates for success. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have almost agreed on all constituencies and decided on candidates except for Istanbul.

Parliament Speaker Binali Yıldırım stands as the strongest candidate for Istanbul although President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has twice postponed the announcement.

The Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Good (İYİ) Party have also signed off a deal for the upcoming local elections in which they will nominate a joint candidate in 21 metropolitan cities, including Istanbul, Ankara, and İzmir. They will likely be announced in the coming weeks, probably after the New Year.

It should be well-noted that March 31, 2019 polls will mark a first as it’s the first local poll in which political parties will run by forming alliances. By definition, local polls are candidate-based elections and citizens vote for the candidates whom they believe they will best serve them. Even this shows how polarized the Turkish society and its politics are.

That’s why the pre-election campaign will observe the same political tension we have been exposed to since the constitutional referendum in 2017.

The AKP and the MHP will try to further consolidate the nationalist-conservative segments of the society while the CHP-İYİ duo will try to attract the votes of people with center-right political leaning. Their unannounced candidates for Istanbul and Ankara, Ekrem İmamoğlu and Mansur Yavaş, are considered to deliver this expectation of the alliance. They also believe they have good chances to get Istanbul and Ankara from the hands of the AKP whose votes tend to decrease recently.

According to surveys conducted by different political parties, the AKP’s support has decreased to 36 percent as of today. One of the most important drives of this decrease is obviously worsening economy. The surveys indicate economy as the number one concern of the Turkish people well ahead of other issues, like terrorism.

In this regard, it should be expected that the government will try to divert the attention of the public opinion from economy to other issues given the fact that harsher results of the economic turbulence have not yet been fully observed.

Latest statements of President Erdoğan give some signs to this end.

First, it’s about the fight against the terror, inside and outside Turkey. Suggesting Turkey’s preparations on a new military operation into Syria is just for local politics would be unfair, but there is no doubt that it will be to the advantage of the AKP-MHP alliance. The fight against the PKK in Turkey will also continue without slowing down. Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has recently revealed that there were around 700 terrorists left in the mountains fighting for the PKK.

Second, it’s about the security and stability of Turkey. Although there are no signs of and calls for Gezi-like mass protests in Turkey, President Erdoğan and MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli keep urging the CHP and the opposition parties not to try to ignite the wick.
Their concerns of the spread of the “Yellow Vest” demonstrations to Turkey have a meaning when considering the high cost of living and growing unemployment in the country. However, the political conditions in Turkey after July 2016 do not give any room for even peaceful mass protests. Therefore, by repeating the same urging, they seem to demonize the opposition parties in the eyes of the Turkish society.

In connection with this, both Erdoğan and Bahçeli continue to accuse CHP’s leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of partnering with “terrorists.” In an address over the weekend, Erdoğan toughened his language against the main opposition leader, signaling that he will take on Kılıçdaroğlu personally throughout the campaign.

In light of all these, it is crystal clear that a very heated political season awaits us in the first quarter of 2019.

Serkan Demirtaş, Turkey elections 2019, Turkish politics,