Turkey’s municipal elections, slated for March 30, 2014, will not be just a vote to choose the mayors who will run the affairs of 81 cities across the country. This time, the elections will be a battle that will determine the fate of the parliamentary and presidential elections that are expected to take place in the next two years. Therefore, the municipal elections will determine the future of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), with its more than 13-year-long monopoly of power.
The AKP declared an early state of alert among its supporters and cadres. In late November, the leader of the AKP, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, launched his election campaign and named the party’s nominees, whom he then ostentatiously introduced and presented to the public. However, winning the electoral competition today involves more than just reading the Turkish public’s political mood and meeting the demands of citizens in order to win their support. The Turkish voter is facing a whole host of pressures that exceed his personal stance and options. He is face-to-face with the religious, intellectual and nationalist leaders who, along with an army of opposition media, are preparing themselves to settle scores with the AKP—an opportunity which they might not have again.
The atmosphere this time is different from what it was four years ago, and Erdoğan knows that he has no choice but to once again clinch a victory against his competitors. This is his only chance to respond to all the campaigns, whether domestic or external, claiming the decline of his popularity, influence and ability to achieve his greatest dream. That dream, of course, is running the affairs of the country until 2023, the year that marks the centennial anniversary of the Turkish Republic.
Erdoğan will try to win the votes of Alawites, Kurds and other minorities by passing a package of constitutional, political and social reforms. This is particularly necessary because these minorities have blamed him for bringing the country to a standstill on the issue of drafting a new constitution to replace the military-backed one that has been in use for 30 years. Erdoğan may not choose to ally himself with another party to guarantee victory, but he does hope to woo the nationalist and secular parties via his package of reforms that are sure to provoke heated debates in the Turkish parliament in the coming days.\
The municipal elections have always paved the way for Erdoğan to win the parliamentary elections. Any unexpected defeat this spring will shake his power.
Until quite recently, Erdoğan was encouraged by the fact that 50 percent of the total number of voters were planning to vote for his party. However, recent surveys showed that the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the AKP’s nearest rivals, is growing in popularity, with figures showing it lagging slightly behind the ruling party in several major cities.
The leaked Turkish National Security Council (MGK) resolutions and recommendations of 2004 regarding the war against Islamic intellectual Fethullah Gülen, the recent resolution of the supreme court that condemned the detention and arrest of several MPs accused of plotting to topple the prime minister, and the declining number of those who support the presidential system project, will definitely play into the hands of the opposition.
This is not to mention Erdoğan’s foreign policy, including on the Syrian crisis, Egypt and Israel, which the opposition takes issue with. Added to that, of course, are the reverberations of the Arab Spring.
During his recent visit to the US, the leftist leader Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu met with senior leaders of the pro-US and Israel lobbies, as well as Gülen’s closest aides,, and spoke about the growing number of CHP supporters, especially in Istanbul, a city that has more than 9 million voters. Kiliçdaroğlu wants to spearhead his next election battle there, given its material and moral influence in drawing the new political map in Turkey. As long as the goal is to take over power from Erdoğan and his party, all possibilities for striking surreptitious bargains or deals are on the table.
According to the latest reports in the Turkish media, the AKP is set to win 48 percent of the votes, with 36 percent going to the CHP. However, what is certain this time is that the CHP has grown in popularity and the competition will be tough in more than ten cities, including Adana, Manisa, Ordu and Sparta. Furthermore, the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) wants to fortify its positions in cities in south-east Turkey, such as Mardin and Şanliurfa, which they have failed to win in the past.
Erdoğan knows very well that the opposition will not hesitate to form an alliance if necessary, with the aim of weakening him or blocking his way. He is also aware of the lurking desire of some secular-minded civilian and military leaders to avenge the liquidation, marginalization and elimination they suffered over the past years.
Erdoğan took advantage of several points during the past elections. They include winning over most women voters, benefiting from the factionalism and mistakes of his opponents and the important achievements made by Islamists in several cities. However, the political scene is different this time, and perhaps this has led Erdoğan to adopt a new policy, that is, naming nominees in some of the sensitive cities he wants to retain control of, such as Hatay, Gaziantep and Bodrum.
In a few months’ time, we will know what course the political process in Turkey will take, and who will lead the country in the next decade.