An Analysis of the Recent Elections in Turkey

2024/04/07 | Note, political, top news

Strategic Council Online—Opinion: Turkey's March 31 local elections, which ended with the opposition's victory and Erdogan's party's defeat, is considered an important "decisive point" in the future of Turkey's domestic and foreign policy developments. It determines the fate of several important political issues, in addition to the election of mayors and local managers for the next five years. Hamid Khosayand - expert on regional issues

Turkey’s local elections, for some reasons, enjoy high importance and implications that are parallel to each other, the most important of which are discussed below:

 

One: While the ruling Justice and Development Party was seeking to complete its victory in the previous two presidential and parliamentary elections, the opposition and critical forces were trying to compensate for their defeat in the last two elections by winning the municipal elections. This issue caused the two parties to enter the elections with concern about their possible humiliation. For the same reason, they used all the political, economic, social, etc., possibilities and took advantage of every opportunity to win the race.

 

Two: The local elections have a “serious effect” on Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party’s political future. On March 9, 2024, addressing the Turkish Youth Foundation, Erdogan spoke for the first time about “leaving the power” and emphasized that the municipal elections would be his “last” election.

Erdogan said in that speech: “I will continue my work without interruption. For me, this is the end. With the powers given to me by the law, this election is my last election.”

According to Erdoğan, it is clear that the victory in the elections, especially in Istanbul, which is in the hands of the opposition, plays an effective role in the “survival” of Erdoğan and his party.

Three: Ankara, the political capital, and Istanbul, the business and economic center of Turkey, are two sensitive, vital, and pivotal regions of the elections. Istanbul especially has a prominent role in this election.

The municipality of Istanbul, which was under the control of Justice and Development for 25 years, has been in the hands of the opposition since 2019, which has dealt a significant blow to Erdogan, who started his political career there in 1994.

Therefore, Erdogan’s main focus in the election was on Istanbul. For this purpose, although he appeared as a competitor and election candidate, he chose Murat Korum, the 47-year-old former minister of urban development and environment, to compete with the current mayor, Akram Imamoglu, the most powerful politician of the People’s Republican Party.

Four: The debate on the construction of the “New Istanbul Canal Megaproject,” which connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, the Aegean Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea through a waterway, is another issue that augmented the importance of the local elections. The said project has an economic value of tens of billions of dollars.

If we look at the elections from the perspective of the artificial canal of Istanbul, the victory of the Justice and Development Party in Istanbul could leave Erdogan’s hands open in two critical areas:

  1. The use of this city’s economic and commercial capacities and opportunities, including the Istanbul Canal, to improve the economic situation and, as a result, boost the internal credibility and prestige that economic problems have tarnished.
  2. Facilitate the process of introducing a new constitution that would allow Erdogan to remain in power for another term after his term ends in 2028.

Therefore, due to Istanbul’s special status in the economy and trade, Turkey’s domestic and foreign policy, and the special view of European businessmen and investors towards this city, each of the two rival currents tried to win the local elections in this city so that they could somehow shape their future and consolidate and stabilize Turkey’s politics and power.

It is worth mentioning that in the past weeks, representatives of Europe’s investment companies and financial institutions traveled to Turkey, and while meeting with several political analysts, journalists, academics, and economic activists, they were looking for a realistic answer to the question on the defeat or victory of each side. In particular, Imamoglu and her friends in Istanbul, Ankara, and other cities will impact the future of their investment in Turkey.

And last but not least is that unlike the previous rounds, the local elections have been the focus of political, media, and especially public opinion since a few months ago to the extent that it was referred to as a “referendum” inside Turkey. Because the elections went beyond the framework of municipal competition and practically turned into a big political referendum at the national level, which is important even for regional and Western countries.

Therefore, the municipal elections in Türkey should not be viewed only as a local election. Although the elections are local, they have important strategic consequences that can ensure the survival of the Justice and Development Party in power or, on the contrary, weaken Erdogan and strengthen the rival faction.

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