23 April, 2024
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Turkey local elections: Seven things we learnt from Erdogan’s defeat

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Turkey local elections: Seven things we learnt from Erdogan’s defeat

Economic and political indicators show that the electorate wanted to vote for change. But this is good news for Turkish democracy

Ragip Soylu

Turkish President and leader of Justice and Development (AK) Party Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech after the Turkish local Municipal elections, at AK Party Headquarters in Ankara on 1 April 2024 (AFP)

Turkey‘s opposition achieved a stunning and historic victory against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party in Sunday’s municipal elections, winning the five largest cities of the country and garnering the most votes nationwide.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) received 37.7 percent of the votes across the country, gaining 17.3 million votes, while the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) secured 35.5 percent of the votes, with 16.3 million votes, according to the preliminary results published by the semi-official Anadolu Agency.

What do these results tell us?

1. It’s the economy, stupid

Turkey’s runaway inflation for the past year incredibly hurt the electorate. Erdogan, unlike his policy before the 2023 presidential elections which he won, opted for an orthodox monetary policy with high interest rates and imposed a series of austerity measures.

Interviews by Middle East Eye throughout last month indicate that pensioners, a significant voting bloc that previously supported Erdogan, are disillusioned with their melting salaries that are even below the minimum wage.


The minimum state pension is now around 10,000 Turkish Lira ($308.39) while the minimum wage for the general public is 17,000 Turkish Lira ($524.26).

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The government also substantially cut back the credit market, denying voters the ability to make quick gains through the housing and second hand car market as they did before the 2023 elections when Erdogan lowered the interest rates well below the annual inflation.

Hakan Kara, an economics professor, said that the consumer confidence index is an indicator of the electorate’s feeling about the government.

“In the last 12 years, the Consumer Confidence Index has risen above 90 before the elections and the ruling parties have won,” he wrote.

“The only exception was the 2019 local election. At that time, consumer confidence had dropped to the 80s due to the economic recession and the opposition took over Istanbul.”

The consumer confidence index was recorded as 79.4 percent in March.

2. Lowest turnout since 2004

Turkish voters stayed home in comparison to past elections, with a 76-percent turnout rate. Only nine months ago, the turnout was 87 percent.

The consensus in Ankara is that AKP voters shied away from voting to punish the government over its economic record.

3. Islamist far right is now third largest party

The New Welfare Party (YRP) has become the third biggest party in the country with six percent of the nationwide votes, gaining 2.8 million votes by running an agenda that blamed the government for economic woes and failure to confront Israel with economic sanctions over its war on Gaza.

The YRP is also running a platform that is anti-LGBTQ and anti-vaccine, as well as rejecting an “imperialist” foreign policy that relies on western alliances such as Nato.

4. The ruling AKP is now stuck in Anatolia

The AKP was only able to secure 12 metropolitan cities in the Anatolian heartland and lost all its access to the southern and western coasts, effectively making it more of a ruralside party than an urbanite political movement.

With more than one million new young voters on Sunday, CHP was mostly the home for the newcomers who are mostly urbanites.

AKP lost in Adiyaman, Agri, Afyonkarahisar, Balikesir, Bursa, Denizli, Kilis, Kirikkale, Mus, Nevsehir, Sanliurfa, Tokat, Usak, Yozgat and Zonguldak, which it had won in 2019. AKP’s Turkish nationalist ally MHP also lost the municipalities it had won in 2019 in Amasya, Bartin, Karabuk, Kastamonu, Kutahya and Manisa.


5. Kurds dumped their party for Imamoglu

The pro-Kurdish People’s Equality and Democracy Party (DEM) barely received two percent of the votes in Istanbul. It is a huge drop considering the party got more than eight percent of the votes in the May 2023 parliamentary elections in the city. Imamoglu managed to convince pro-Kurdish voters that his success in Istanbul would carry more weight against the government than DEM making a stand alone.

6. The opposition has gotten more resources

The opposition won dozens of new municipalities across the country including the five largest cities, which will bring additional monetary and non-monetary resources to the opposition for better campaigning in the long run. Turkey saw a similar strengthening of the opposition platform with the burgeoning of an opposition-leaning media after the 2019 mayoral elections when Imamoglu won Istanbul with a budget of $16bn.

7. Turkey isn’t Russia or China

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Despite all the speculations and criticism, Turkish democracy remains robust with deeply rooted democratic traditions.

There was no violence on Sunday night as the supporters of the opposition celebrated their victory all over the country and Erdogan humbly conceded defeat, congratulating the opposition for their win.

There was some criticism against the government on Sunday, especially in the southeast where police and gendarmerie officers who were relocated there to protect the cities cast their vote even though some of them don’t live there permanently.

But it is clear by now that Turkey isn’t in the league of autocracies such as Russia and China, where even the lowest ranking political office cannot be changed through election.

Ankara
Seven things we learnt from Erdogan’s defeat in Turkish local elections

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