Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Turkey's March 2009 Elections: Loss without Defeat, Gain without Victory

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Turkey's March 2009 Elections: Loss without Defeat, Gain without Victory

Article excerpt

This article has two main goals: The first is to provide a descriptive account of the March 2009 local elections in Turkey; the second is to discuss several themes that emerged during these elections that will likely influence Turkish domestic politics at large. The mayorship races and votes won in the provincial general council (Il Genel Meclisi) elections are the focus. Yet it is generally thought that general council elections are better approximations to general elections than mayorship races. Despite the opposition's efforts to give the local elections a character of a vote of confidence or a sort of referendum, local elections generally are not faithful indicators of what may happen in general elections. Local factors such as candidate popularity and the services the candidate has delivered to local constituents influence local elections as well. Still, provincial general council elections give certain clues regarding future voting patterns as well as emerging electoral and regional voting patterns.

ELECTIONS THAT SATISFIED NO PARTY

The March 2009 local elections satisfied neither the opposition nor the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP, Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi), but for both, these elections were not a defeat either. Neither the Republican People's Party (CHP, Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi) nor the Nationalist Action Party (MHP, Milliyetci Hareket Partisi) could claim victory with any conviction despite considerable gains both in voting shares and the number of mayorships won both at the provincial and district levels. Table 1 below summarizes the election results of the 2004 and 2009 elections as well as 2007 general elections.

The governing AKP's voting shares in provincial general council elections declined from 41.7 percent in the 2004 local elections to 38.8 percent in 2009. A comparison of the results of the 2009 local elections to those of the 2007 general elections looks even more drastic, with an almost eight percent decline, from 46.6 to 38.8 percent. Acknowledging the declining electoral support for his party, in his post-election press conference, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the AKP had received the message and would act accordingly. In the weeks that followed, a cabinet change was made that introduced several new ministers and reshuffled many existing ministerial posts.1 Yet this was not an atmosphere of defeat since the AKP has remained the largest electoral force in Turkish politics. The 38.8 percent of votes it won is still almost as large as the sum of its two major opponents, and the party won 492 of 973 municipalities (81 province and greater city, and 892 district municipalities). Its two closest competitors, the CHP and MHP, received 23.1 and 16.1 percent of the vote respectively and won a total of 322 province and district municipalities. Thus, from the viewpoint of both voting shares and mayorships won, the AKP remains the largest party, comfortably leading the polls.

For the AKP, a pattern that is perhaps more disturbing than the overall decline is the party's failure to succeed in any of the high profile races that the prime minister himself emphasized several times throughout the election campaign. AKP leadership emphasized winning municipalities in predominantly Kurdish eastern and southeastern Turkey-especially in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the region. Capturing the western commercial port of Izmir, a traditional stronghold of CHP, was also set as a goal. These two high profile greater city municipalities epitomize the competition between the AKP and the two sources of major opposition: Izmir represents the opposition from more developed, better educated segments of the society and Diyarbakir represents the Kurdish ethnic identity but also the lower socieconomic strata of the country. The AKP not only failed to win mayorships of either greater city, but its votes in both provinces declined in comparison to 2004 about three points in both provinces despite hard campaigning. …

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