Erdogan’s setbacks in local elections

The effect of his election setbacks could be huge, not only on the AKP’s clientelist networks but on Erdogan’s own power base.
Sunday 07/04/2019
In this Thursday, April 4, 2019 photo, Turkish flags fly in Istanbul Taksim's square. (AP)
In this Thursday, April 4, 2019 photo, Turkish flags fly in Istanbul Taksim's square. (AP)

Turkey’s local elections showed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party losing support in major Turkish cities, including Ankara and Istanbul while pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party opposition candidates won several municipalities.

Erdogan wanted the local polls March 31 to be a referendum on him and his policies. They ended up demonstrating the fragility of his Islamism-based rule, even if the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) won more than 44% of the vote overall.

Behlul Ozkan, an associate professor at Marmara University, said: “Political Islam’s quarter-century-old hegemony in Turkey’s two largest cities is over.”

Erdogan had hoped that mounting economic woes would not affect the results of the elections but with unemployment reaching 12% of the population, including about 25% among the young, a 20% inflation rate and a currency sinking 30%, that was bound to be wishful thinking.

The effect of his election setbacks could be huge, not only on the AKP’s clientelist networks but on Erdogan’s own power base.

For years, Erdogan endeavoured to domesticate the media and prevent the expression of dissonant views. His critics contend he exploited the failed coup of 2016 to crack down on the press, civil society and opposition parties.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said “68 journalists remained behind bars as of December 2018, making Turkey the world’s worst jailer of journalists for the third year in a row.”

The reaction of pro-government media after the elections has shown the type of demonisation that the opposition faces.

İbrahim Karagul, editor of Yeni Safak newspaper, wrote: “Frankly, an Istanbul coup has been staged in the March 31 elections. A coup has been staged through the elections, through the ballot boxes.”

The objective, he said, was: “First destroy Istanbul, then all of Turkey.”

Erdogan’s policies contributed to the creation of an unfair environment geared at consolidating his power and that of his party.

Andrew Dawson, the head of the observer mission from the Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, noted:  “I am afraid we… are not fully convinced that Turkey currently has the free and fair electoral environment which is necessary for genuinely democratic elections in line with European values and principles.”

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