The Republican People's Party and the 2014 Local Elections in Turkey

By Altunoglu, Mustafa | Insight Turkey, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

The Republican People's Party and the 2014 Local Elections in Turkey


Altunoglu, Mustafa, Insight Turkey


Introduction

In Turkey, each election cycle tends to receive special attention as elections typically spark both great excitement and tensions. For months at a time, elections dominate all public debate about the country's politics while politicians, candidates and party organizations compete to impress voters. Once election results start flowing in, winners passionately embrace their success while losers face disappointment.

The special attention that elections receive may be attributed to the various persistent shortcomings of the Turkish political system's democratic credentials. In regular modern democracies, elections represent an indispensable part of the political system while the Constitution safeguards individual rights and liberties from the majority's demands and expectations. In Turkey, however, government institutions tasked with protecting the Constitution and, by extension, individual rights and liberties (i.e. checks-and-balances) traditionally served another set of priorities--the protection of the state and its various institutions against a counter-revolution. In a sense, such government institutions represented safety switches that would deter and prevent elected actors from challenging the state and its red lines.

Various memorable confrontations between elected governments and the establishment in the Republic's history, including the 1960 military coup, the 'postmodern' coup of 1997 and the 2007 'e-coup,' reflected the aforementioned sense of protecting the state and the constitutional order against challenges and constituted the cornerstone of Turkey's infamous guardianship regime. This self-proclaimed role of the establishment historically justified a broad range of interventions in the political process as a necessary and, in some cases, mandatory act. The execution of ousted Prime Minister Adnan Menderes in 1961, for instance, represented one of the most extreme measures that the elites took over past decades. A series of controversial rulings by the Constitutional Court, coupled with various incidents where elected governments were forced to resign, would fit into the same category. While the Republic's history could offer numerous other examples of the sort, the point is that the establishment has traditionally chosen to serve and protect the state as opposed to the people, and turned a blind eye to elections and civilian politics at their own convenience.

Against the backdrop of repeated transgressions against electoral processes and civilian politics in Turkish history, both ordinary citizens and politicians attributed a special importance to the ballot box. For the general population, elections served as the only instrument within their means to influence the country's affairs. Similarly, the ballot box has traditionally offered a channel for the masses to stand against the aforementioned defamation of their representatives. In response, politicians often found that they could only rely on popular support in their pursuit of power and influence within the political system. (1) It is therefore that elections, local or national, remain of critical importance to this day.

Turkey's democratic shortcomings would also account for the widespread treatment of various local elections in past years, as well as in March 2014, as a national affair. Since 1960, local elections typically had repercussions beyond the limits of local races and therefore assumed the role of a referendum or a vote of confidence for successive governments. Simply speaking, local elections in Turkey either served as a nationwide opinion poll during the lead-up to national elections or represented a vote of confidence for the ruling party/ coalition government in the aftermath of national elections. (2)

In March 2014, two factors were influential over the local elections' treatment by voters and commentators as a matter of national politics. First and foremost, local issues rapidly lost their relevance to voters as political tensions, which became visible during the Gezi Park protests and grew more intense after the government was hit with corruption allegations on December 17, 2013, peaked right before election day. …

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