Turkey's Local Elections of 2009: Winners and Losers
Carkoglu, Ali, Insight Turkey
This paper intends to provide a descriptive account of what took place in the March 2009 local elections and then to contextualize the electoral developments that are most relevant for Turkish domestic politics. This analysis concentrates on the provincial general council (Il Genel Meclisi) elections, which is thought to give the best approximation to the results of a general election compared to other levels of local elections. It should nevertheless be underlined that no matter how far one may want to push the argument about the similarity of local elections to general elections, all rational voters knew what was at stake in the March 29, 2009 local election and that it was not a general election. Therefore, the dynamics that shaped voting decisions in the local elections were of a distinctly different nature to those of a general election. The provincial general council elections do obviously provide some clues as to future voting trends in general elections, but these are mere clues and nothing more than that. Local election results are shaped not only by ideology and government performance, but also by local concerns, policy issues and candidates. As such, they reflect many issues that would not be relevant in a general election and thus any conclusions should be evaluated cautiously. When the country enters a new general election campaign there could be a new set of dynamics at play that would determine voting decisions. (1)
A Summary of Main Arguments
Looking at the nation-wide aggregate results, Table 1 below shows that the Justice and Development Party (AKP, Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi) is still the largest party in Turkey. In provincial general council election results aggregated for the whole country, the AKP, with about 39% of the vote, was about 16% ahead of its main competitor, the Republican People's Party (CHP, Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi), and about 23 percentage points ahead of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP, Milliyetci Hareket Partisi). Compared to the 2004 municipal elections, where the AKP was also the incumbent party, support is about 3% down, and compared to the 2007 general elections support is about 8% down. However, in terms of municipalities won (greater city municipalities, provincial and district levels combined), out of 973 municipalities (81 greater city municipalities and provinces plus 892 districts) the AKP won 492 (approximately 51%) while those of the CHP and MHP totaled 322. Since these elections are decided based on a simple plurality, this clearly shows that the AKP is still the largest electoral force in more than half of the municipalities.
The main opposition CHP as well as the MHP have both been steadily raising their support in countrywide election returns. The most impressive was the MHP's record which showed about 53% increase in its support from 2004 to 2009. The CHP's gains were relatively modest with about 27% rise in support from 2004 to 2009, from 18.2% to 23.1% respectively. The Democratic Society Party's (DTP, Demokratik Toplum Partisi) vote in 2004 was part of a large six-party coalition of marginal left parties, of which the DTP was the larger coalition partner, especially in eastern and southeastern provinces. (2) In the 2007 general elections, the DTP candidates ran as independents to by-pass the 10% threshold to secure nationwide representation. Keeping these caveats in mind, DTP's share of the vote appears frozen at about 5% of the national vote, which by all estimates is well below the share of the ethnic-Kurdish population of voting age. Nevertheless, as will be underlined below, the DTP managed to pull together an impressive increase in its support compared to the 2004 local elections at the expense of mainly the AKP but also the Democrat Party (DP, Demokrat Parti) or the continuation of the True Path Party (DYP, Dooru Yol Partisi), which five years ago garnered about 4-16% of the vote in the eastern and southeastern provinces but in March 2009 appeared to have lost more than half of its support. …