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The Electorate's Tune-Up

The Electorate's Tune-Up

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Originally published in March 2009. Elections are always a serious business in Turkey and the local elections that just took place were no exception. The electorate gave a stern warning to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and notably Prime Minister Erdogan, who ran an energetic but harsh, angry, and polarizing campaign. In light of the election results, the question before Turkey is what course the AKP will take, or to be more precise, how the Prime Minister will interpret the results and how he will respond.
Originally published in March 2009. Elections are always a serious business in Turkey and the local elections that just took place were no exception. The electorate gave a stern warning to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and notably Prime Minister Erdogan, who ran an energetic but harsh, angry, and polarizing campaign. In light of the election results, the question before Turkey is what course the AKP will take, or to be more precise, how the Prime Minister will interpret the results and how he will respond.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Sep 24, 2010
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Analysis
Elections are always a serious businessin Turkey and the local elections thattook place Sunday were no exception.The elections were held to elect mayorsand city councils on separate tickets,meaning support or a candidate ortheir party can and does show variancethroughout the country.The electorate gave a stern warning tothe ruling Justice and DevelopmentParty (AKP) and notably to Prime Min-ister Erdogan, who ran an energetic butharsh, angry, and polarizing campaignthat was reciprocated by his adversaries.One major beneiciary o the electionswas the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which increased both the per-centage o the vote it received and thenumber o municipalities it holds. Thevoters also brought the Islamist Felicity Party (SP) back to le, which is undernew, robust leadership.The Kurdish Nationalist Party (DTP),whose relation to the terrorist organiza-tion PKK is similar to that o Sinn Feinand the IRA, claimed its natural terrainback rom the AKP. In the general elec-tions o 2007, AKP had done exception-ally well in the predominantly KurdishSoutheast.The main opposition RepublicanPeople’s Party (CHP) slightly improvedits position, but once again showed itcould not become a valid challenger tothe AKP as a national party. However,some o its candidates and local organi-zations, notably in Istanbul and Izmir,showed that the party still had theopportunity to revitalize itsel i its cur-rent septuagenarian politburo wouldinally go into long-overdue retirement.With more than 80 percent participa-tion nationwide, according to unoicialresults, the AKP received 39% o thevote or city councils. CHP got 23%,MHP 16%, DTP 5.6%, and SP 5.2%.In several metropolitan centers, CHP’ssupport was well above the nationalaverage or the party. Like the national-ist MHP, it had no presence whatsoeverin the southeast, just as the DTP hadno showing in Central, Northern, andWestern Turkey.AKP had a net loss o 12 city munici-palities. Prior to the elections the PrimeMinister speciically targeted certaincities and districts that had symbolicimportance, such as Diyarbakır in theSoutheast, Izmir on the Aegean coast,and Eskisehir in Central Anatolia. Notonly did he ail to win these munici-
The electorate’s tune-up
by Soli Ozel*March 31, 2009
*
Soli Ozel teaches at Istanbul Bilgi University’s Department of International Relations and Political Science and is a foreign editor of 
Haberturk 
. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the German MarshallFund of the United States (GMF).
 
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Offices
Summary: Elections are always aserious business in Turkey and thelocal elections that just took placewere no exception. The electorategave a stern warning to the ruling Justice and Development Party(AKP) and notably Prime MinisterErdogan, who ran an energeticbut harsh, angry, and polarizing campaign.In light of the election results, thequestion before Turkey is whatcourse the AKP will take, or to bemore precise, how the Prime Minis- ter will interpret the results and howhe will respond.
 
palities, but, with the exception o the city o Trabzon in thenorth, in many o them his party lost by a landslide. Further-more, the AKP lost two metropolitan municipalities alongthe Mediterranean coast as well.
chk and balan
These results call or urther detailed analysis, but a prelimi-nary evaluation reveals important messages.There were ew individuals in the punditocracy who expectedwhat turned out to be a row or the AKP. Prior to the election,the debate was over whether the party would receive 40-45percent o the vote, 45-50 percent or even above 50 percent.For some, there was concern that another landslide victory or the ruling party would hurt Turkish democracy by skew-ing the balance o power. Only one pollster called the electionalmost exactly right.The electorate did not give the AKP the kind o monopolisticpower that it sought. The political system and the politi-cal dynamics o Turkey showed that the necessary checksand balances against overwhelming power and the threat o electoral authoritarianism are in the electoral system. Eveni Turkey’s institutional mechanisms or checks and balancesare still weak, the electorate rises to the occasion.Last but not least on the issue o systemic checks and balanc-es: this election was held with no military shadow cast over it.It was thoroughly a civilian aair that, inter alia, showed howinterventions by the military and the judiciary in the electoralprocess have backired, notably in 2007. The normalization o Turkish politics and its detoxiication rom military tutelageare to be celebrated.The economic crisis certainly underpinned the results. Turk-ish manuacturing suered immensely in the last ew monthsas both domestic and oreign markets crashed. Unemploy-ment registered steep increases as elsewhere in the world. Inmajor industrial cities, the AKP vote dropped precipitously,even i not enough to cost it the mayor’s oice.The inancial system, cured o its ills during Turkey’s eco-nomic crisis o 2001, held its own but a general sense that themanagement o the economy had no ownership also hurtthe AKP. The Prime Minister’s callousness about the crisis,his denial that this was a serious matter that demanded ull,undivided, and competent attention, and his propensity to blame or accuse everyone or the economic pains in thecountry, cost him dearly.In many cities, particularly in coastal regions and the South-east, the electorate displayed a strong political and ideologicalposition. It was telling that the Prime Minister was shockedand angry that his party lost the resort city o Antalya thathe personally visited 26 times. In the Kurdish city o Tunceli,where the governor helped distribute white goods to villagesthat did not have electricity, the AKP lost handsomely.In short, the elections showed the limits o relying on mate-rial services or electoral bribes to win in politically consciousregions. In the coastal provinces, the voters deended theirliestyles that they, rightly or wrongly, believed were beingthreatened by AKP’s religious conservatism. In the Southeast,despite aid, investment, and the launching o Kurdish TV, cit-izens rejected politics that denied the identity (thus political)dimension o the Kurdish problem. They clearly punished theAKP or adopting a harsh nationalist tone toward those whospoke the language o identity politics and or getting closerto the military.
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Analysis
“The electorate did not give theAKP the kind of monopolistic power that it sought. The political systemand the political dynamics of Turkeyshowed that the necessary checksand balances against overwhelm-ing power and the threat of elec- toral authoritarianism are in theelectoral system.”

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