The impact of recent Turkish elections on the political future of the ruling party

2024/04/09 | Note, political, top news

Strategic Council Online—Opinion: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Turkiye, on the same night that he won the second round of the presidential elections in May 2023, told the crowd of his supporters, "We love Istanbul, we started our journey to this city, and we will continue it." At the same time, he wanted to take back the Istanbul Municipality from the rival and kept repeating that we will take back Istanbul. Erdogan referred to the Istanbul Municipality, which his party lost in 2019 elections of this metropolis and the economic capital of Turkiye, to his Republican opponent, Akram Imamoglu. Siyamak Kakaee—Researcher of Turkiye affairs

Since then, Erdogan has been trying to make up for this defeat so that the Justice and Development Party can again take over the helm of the Istanbul Municipality. After the 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections, it was possible that Erdogan and his party would be able to participate in the local elections powerfully. Therefore, in the weeks leading up to the March 31 local elections, Erdogan’s campaign efforts and activities increased in Istanbul, and he visited some religious figures such as Ismail Agha and other influential groups to create the conditions for the victory of the Justice and Development candidate in the Istanbul municipal elections. However, the results of the elections in Istanbul and many other Turkish cities did not turn out to Erdogan’s liking.

The fundamental question about the remarkable victory of the People’s Republic Party (CHP) is how this party rebuilt itself and won a significant number of Turkish municipalities a year after losing the presidential election.

In response, it is necessary to analyze and evaluate two issues: first, the change in the leadership of the People’s Republic Party in Congress, which led to the removal of Kemal Kilicdaroglu from the leadership and the election of Ozgur Ozel. This showed that the People’s Republic Party, considered one of Turkiye’s first political parties, has achieved a political recovery. In the meantime, the presence of some prominent figures of this party, such as Akram Imamoglu as the mayor of Istanbul with his fiery speeches, or Mansur Yavash in Ankara and another metropolis such as Izmir, which is the traditional base of the People’s Republic, helped the leaders of this party to make new promises in obtaining public votes to win.

Now the People’s Republic is sitting in the position of the first political party in the municipal elections, and in the meantime, the performance of Akram Imamoglu and Mansour Yavash in the two important cities of central Turkiye, namely Istanbul and Ankara, was very decisive. This old saying of Erdogan has been repeated many times in political circles and the media that whoever wins the elections in Istanbul can rule Turkiye, and this was a reminder of Erdogan’s powerful presence in the Istanbul Municipality a few decades ago.

In fact, the origin of Erdogan’s serious entry into the executive stage of politics was in the 1994 elections and his election as the mayor of Istanbul; At the same time, his type of approach and initiatives in this city were quickly influenced by public opinion and the ruling power. He was even banned from political activity for a few years due to the type of stances and harsh speeches he had. However, apart from examining the historical background, the city of Istanbul is perhaps the most important city and province of Turkiye, through which the largest amount of foreign trade is carried out; With a population of over 16 million and a diverse mix of ethnic groups and political groups. For this reason, Istanbul is very important.

The second influential factor was the expectations of the Turkish people towards the Justice and Development Party in the last year after the presidential election and the failure to fulfill Erdogan’s economic promises. Many believe that the economic factor and high inflation still played an important role in reducing the votes for Justice and Development. But perhaps the most important reason was Erdogan’s political approaches to politics and government, which became his Achilles’ heel in the municipal elections, and he could not regain the municipalities of Istanbul and Ankara as he wanted, and the helm of these two important cities was in the hands of his powerful rival.

The most important criticism of Erdogan’s political approach is his individualistic approach, and his critics say that Erdogan has personalized politics and that this monopoly of power is not pleasant for political currents and a large part of public opinion. They believe that it is time for a change.

After the municipal elections, Erdogan said in his famous “Balcony” speech that he got the message from the voters and stated that democracy is victorious. He added, that this failure is not the end of the road for Justice and Development and it can be a new beginning to analyze the reasons for the failure.

Now there are four years left until the 2028 presidential election, and both the ruling current and the competitors will continue their efforts to maintain a competitive situation.

Therefore, the question is whether Erdogan can use his political wisdom to redefine the new activity of Justice and Development? Especially since the elections of the next 4 years will mark the end of Erdogan’s political presence in the presidency, and Erdogan is already worried that the Justice and Development Party will not be able to maintain its political standing after about 3 decades until then. His critics also say that Erdogan has made the party more dependent on his personality attitudes and this can be a big challenge to the political activity of the Justice and Development Party or possible divisions of this party. But Erdogan is trying to move the situation in such a way that he will continue to use his charismatic power, but this time it may be too late.

From another point of view, it should be noted that Turkish municipal elections have a local nature that is related to how cities and municipalities are run. However, due to the activities of the municipalities, openings for the political movements of the parties flare up. Now many believe that the future opponent of Justice and Development Party for the presidential election may be someone like Imam Akramoglu with the degree of popularity he has gained. Another point is that municipal elections are usually less effective in the foreign policy scene. Because Turkiye’s foreign policy orientations are affected by larger conditions inside and on the world stage, and foreign policy is less affected by the type of municipal elections; Unless, on the eve of the presidential election, one of the prominent mayors like Imam Ekramoglu or Mansour Yavash prepares for the presidency; Then they will present their foreign policy priorities on the regional and global stage. Finally, Turkiye has an important geopolitical position and this principle governs foreign policy orientations.

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