What next for Erdoğan?
Looking back on the election campaign and the topics that dominated the election period, it is hard to call the March 30 elections a local election. It was rather a general election or vote of confidence for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who has had difficult times since Dec. 17, 2013, the day when a massive corruption and graft operation was launched. Therefore, the analysis of the March 30 polls should be based on a comparison of previous parliamentary elections of 2011.
According to initial results, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) had 45 percent of votes, nearly five percent less than its 2011 performance. Bekir Ağırdır, a researcher for Konda, stressed the decrease in the AKP is around eight percent, given the fact that the public opinion polls conducted before Dec. 17 showed the ruling party’s votes around 53 percent. Many suggest the decrease in votes for the AKP is primarily because of corruption claims and of Erdoğan’s fight against the Fethullah Gülen community.
However, although there is a slight decrease in its votes, the AKP should still be counted successful given the magnitude and seriousness of the corruption claims. A study carried out by Ipsos, a social research center, pointed out that only five percent of AKP voters were affected by corruption claims, while the rest had no change in their decisions. It is also interesting that some 70 percent of those who voted for the AKP have made their decisions to vote for the AKP before Dec. 17. Bans on Twitter, YouTube or restrictions on the freedom of media were not in any way in the AKP voters’ consideration, either.
The picture tells more about the socio-economic profile of the AKP grassroots. Representing the less educated, low and lower middle class and mostly conservative segments of society, the AKP grassroots obviously do not care much about corruption claims or the concerns of a mostly European-leaning part of the Turkish people.
Election results verified the estimations of some senior AKP officials that the Gülen community’s impact on elections is limited. Erdoğan’s strategy of depicting Gülen as “the tool of foreign powers that are in an evil plot against the Turkish state” helped his party’s election results. In addition, the leak of an illegal recording of a high-level security meeting two days before the polls obviously worked to the advantage of the ruling party.
The party managed to keep Istanbul and Ankara, but it could do so thanks to a recent legal amendment that increased the area of greater municipalities, particularly for the capital city. Results show the AKP would have lost Ankara if the former law was applied.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) increased its votes from 2011’s 25.9 percent to 27.8 in a nearly two points rise. One of the most important reasons for the increase is the party’s decision to select the right candidates, especially for Istanbul and Ankara, which makes nearly 20 percent of all of the voters in Turkey. The CHP increased its votes in both towns and lost Ankara with only 15,000 votes.
However, at a moment when the AKP was facing difficulties because of corruption claims, there were expectations that the main opposition party would raise its votes to the margin of at least 30 percent.
The legal amendment of the greater municipalities cost the CHP to lose its strongholds Artvin, Antalya and Mersin, but helped it to win Burdur and Hatay. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s leadership seems not be questioned after the local polls, but his credit is getting thin.
The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) increased its votes nearly 3.5 points since 2011, making it 15.5 percent. It based its policy on the AKP’s concessions towards the Kurdish political groups by urging the people not to vote for the potential division of Turkey. The rhetoric found its reflection in mostly inner-Anatolian regions, but it did not help it to win big municipalities. The party has proven that it would have no problem passing the 10 percent national threshold in the parliamentary elections, consolidating its third biggest party in Turkish politics. There will be no leadership debate at the party, as Devlet Bahçeli can only leave his position if he one day decides to quit politics.
Pro-Kurdish parties, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and People’s Democracy Party (HDP) had around seven percent of the votes in total and won 10 cities in the southeastern Anatolian region, as well as Mardin by Ahmet Türk who ran as an independent candidate. They strengthened the map they had drawn in the 2011 elections and will likely have more influence in Turkish politics, as well as ongoing peace process. Because of the fact that they have nominated some of the Kurdish movement’s very prominent and powerful figures to key municipalities, it’s well expected that the Kurds will focus more on gaining their rights to autonomy in these 11 cities.
In general, the local polls have shown that the country’s political environment has not changed in a drastic way since the 2011 elections, despite last year’s massive Gezi protests and corruption claims.
The AKP has seemingly secured its comfort above 45 percent vote margin, whereas the two opposition parties, the CHP and MHP, only had a small increase in their votes. The Kurds are walking on their own lines and strengthening their regional superiority.
Under such political conditions, the number one issue of Turkey will be whether Erdoğan will decide to run for presidency or to remain prime minister for the fourth time. Talks for early elections would follow in the case Erdoğan makes a decision for his future political career.