Turkish electoral priority: ideology or economics?

Economic rationality presumes that the AKP’s votes in the 2019 local elections should be noticeably lower than the 42.6% the party received in June 2018.
Sunday 03/02/2019
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to students at the American University in Cairo, January 10. (AP)
Direct line to the angels. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to students at the American University in Cairo, January 10. (AP)

Turkey’s local elections March 31 offer an opportunity to determine which rationality — economics or ideology — reigns in the country.

Given that Turkey is in a deep economic crisis, the key question is whether Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) will lose support.

If the AKP maintains its strong electoral backing the elections would prove that the party’s supporters follow an ideological rationality, not an economic one.

The Turkish economy is performing poorly in nearly every key metric: inflation, unemployment, bankruptcies and exchange rates. There are serious problems in the supply chain of essential food items, such as potatoes and onions. The magnitude of the economic crisis could alter electoral behaviour.

Unlike during previous elections, there is no domestic or foreign political crisis to distract people from their economic woes. The ruling AKP has tried to provoke sensitive issues with the expectation that identity politics might overshadow the economic problems but these efforts failed, which indicates that the depth of the economic crisis is greater than the AKP’s ability to play identity politics.

The economic crisis has emerged as the type of dynamic in Turkish politics that would normally trigger a change. If the AKP survives these elections with no major losses, it would be apparent that an ideological rationality dominates the country.

Some might argue that Turkey is an authoritarian country in which fair elections are impossible. Notwithstanding this reality, the magnitude of the economic crisis is an objective reason to expect the AKP to lose serious support.

Propaganda and media control are crucial in distorting fair elections. However, real problems, especially deep economic troubles, can defy propaganda and Turkey’s economic crisis is pervasive in the daily life of its citizens.

Turkey has had elections in the past in which voters made changes despite concerns over electoral fairness. During most elections in the Cold War period, Turkey had only one television station and one radio channel, both controlled by the government, but it could not stop people from voting for change.

Thus, if the AKP keeps its electoral support in the local elections, this could not be explained merely based on the authoritarian regime. The consolidation of an ideological rationality must also be credited.

Given that the economic crisis in Turkey is an objective fact, economic rationality presumes that the AKP’s votes in the 2019 local elections should be noticeably lower than the 42.6% the party received in June 2018.

To give a comparative perspective, the AKP’s vote share in the 2009 local elections, which happened during a global economic crisis, was 38.8%.

If the AKP survives the March 31 vote with no major loss despite the economic crisis, it would mean the ultimate expectation of AKP supporters is that Erdogan continues to follow his Islamisation agenda. As long as the AKP does that, voters will keep supporting it, even while the economy teeters on the verge of collapse.

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