Istanbul, Asharq Al-Awsat—Turkey is heading to the polls on Sunday for local elections that most analysts believe will decide the fate of embattled Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is seeking to roundly defeat the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) ahead of forthcoming presidential elections scheduled for later this year and parliamentary elections expected sometime in 2015.
Erdoğan is facing a domestic political crisis following a corruption scandal in which a number of his ministers and members of their families were implicated. The prime minister and his own family have been in hot water recently after a number of audio tapes of Erdoğan and his son linking them to the scandal were leaked online. He responded by clamping down on social media, shutting down Twitter and YouTube and inciting a mass public outcry.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Erdoğan advisor Taha Ganj denied that the leaked recordings will have a negative impact on Erdoğan’s popularity. He said: “The opposition said a new video recording will be released that will make [the prime minister] flee the country, but none of these threats were carried out and Erdoğan has challenged them to present whatever they claim to have.”
“As for the issue of Twitter, it is impossible to ban social media networks completely,” he said, justifying Ankara’s decision to block the social media network as “it did not respond to any of the Turkish government’s requests to delete some of the offensive recordings.”
Ganj said: “He will certain run for the presidency, according to what I know,” adding that Erdoğan may also seek to amend the constitution and push Turkey towards a presidential system of government.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “He [Erdoğan] could run for the presidency, and after the parliamentary elections he will raise the issue of constitutional amendments.”
Asharq Al-Awsat also spoke with CHP Vice-Chairman Faruk Loğoğlu about the opposition party’s chances at the local elections.
He said: “We expect the AKP to lose the support and backing it enjoys because it is making one mistake after the other, which has led to a weak national economy, social polarization and regional isolation. On the other hand, the CHP and other opposition parties are only growing stronger.”
“The CHP expects to win a lot of seats in Istanbul and Ankara, as well as in other major cities like İzmir, Antalya, Eskişehir and even, perhaps Adana. We expect to win around 30 percent of the vote, with the AKP winning less than 40 percent.”
This round of municipal elections is seen as a barometer for Turkey’s first direct presidential elections, which are set to take place in August. Incumbent Turkish president Abdullah Gül is set to step down, with many analysts believing that Erdoğan could seek the presidency.
Loğoğlu said: “The local elections are a test for the presidential elections in August and the general elections in June 2015. A strong CHP performance at the local elections could build momentum for the presidential and parliamentary elections.”
Ganj, Erdoğan’s advisor, confirmed the prime minister will seek to stand in the forthcoming presidential elections. He told Asharq Al-Awsat that Erdoğan had pledged to serve three terms in office as prime minister, and “this will be his third and last term.”
“Many wish that Erdoğan would stay on for a fourth term because the atmosphere in Turkey is favorable, but those who know Erdoğan realize that he will not compromise on his principles,” Ganj said.
The CHP vice chairman told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We are making every effort to interact with all sections of society, not just women or the youth or the social conservatives. CHP is the guarantor for freedom of belief and religious freedoms.”
Commenting on the recent crisis between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and popular Islamic preacher and former AKP supporter Fethullah Gülen and claims that the opposition party is seeking to capitalize from the crisis, Loğoğlu said: “The CHP has no alliance with any group. Gülen’s supporters are Turkish citizens, and so you can be sure that we will try to win their votes. We cannot say to any party or group that we do not want your votes . . . The CHP is a party that includes all sections of society without any discrimination on the basis of politics or ideology. The Turkish people will vote for us based on their support of our views and programs.”
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat in the run-up to Sunday’s elections, MP for the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Zübeyde Zümrüt said she expected a “significant increase in the pro-Kurdish party’s popularity.”
“The BDP will win municipalities it never won before, such as Şanliurfa, Mardin, Muş and Erzincan, because Kurds trust us and have seen our experience managing other municipalities, such as Diyarbakır,” she said.
Thair Abbas contributed reporting from Istanbul.