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Issues and challenges in the municipal elections in Turkey

Wednesday 27 March 2024, by Uraz Aydin

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Tired of yet another election that ultimately changes nothing in the daily lives of workers, citizens are getting ready to go to the polls to elect mayors and municipal councillors in Turkey on Sunday 31 March 2024.

For the Islamo-nationalist ruling bloc, the main aim of these municipal elections is to win back the main cities, including Istanbul and Ankara.

Winning back Istanbul

President Erdogan had gone so far as to cancel and re-run the Istanbul ballot in the previous 2019 municipal elections because of the risk of losing the administration of this megalopolis of 16 million inhabitants. The Istanbul municipality that Erdogan won in the 1994 elections had been important not only for his own rise but also for that of the Islamist movement in Turkey, particularly in terms of the development of Islamic capital thanks to the municipality’s enormous financial resources. So after losing Istanbul and Ankara to opposition candidates in 2019, it is crucial for Erdogan and his bloc to reclaim these mayoralties. For the moment, the current mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoğlu, looks set to win against Erdogan’s foal, Murat Kurum, a former environment minister.

A new Islamist party

However, a new player, the New Prosperity Party (YRP), is emerging in the political spectrum of the Islamo-conservative right. While Erdogan remains the undisputed leader for half of society, his party, the AKP, which has become a hotbed of upstarts, has suffered a loss of legitimacy. This weakening of the party has benefited more radical formations such as the YRP. But unlike other parties that remain meekly in Erdogan’s political orbit, the YRP, which obtained 2.6% in the 2023 legislative elections and five MPs (thanks to its alliance with Erdogan’s bloc), is now daring to challenge Reis.

For these municipal elections, the YRP has refused to join this alliance and is thus competing with the AKP in dozens of towns, with a more Islamic, more social discourse and more intransigent support for Palestine. By integrating AKP diehards into local government, the YRP risks not only winning AKP-led mayoralties but also costing Erdogan’s bloc Istanbul by not calling for a vote for Mr Kurum and fielding its own candidate. "We are not a party that exists solely to help the AKP win", the YRP vice-president recently declared.

The Kurds and the opposition

As for the Kurdish movement, under its new name, the DEM Party, it will very probably win the vast majority of mayoralties in the Kurdish region in the south-east of the country, as has always been the case. But for several years now, almost all the mayors of the Kurdish movement have been removed from office (and many imprisoned) on charges of being linked to terrorism. In their place, pro-Erdogan administrators have been appointed.

As far as the western towns are concerned, the DEM Party has long sought to forge an alliance with the CHP (the main opposition party) which would be officially recognised and declared, and under which it would obtain concrete gains (district mayorships, municipal councillors, etc.), unlike in previous elections where the Kurds received virtually nothing in return for their support, which was very often decisive. Under pressure from its base to adopt a more autonomous policy vis-à-vis the opposition, the DEM Party, in the absence of a satisfactory agreement, put forward its own candidates in almost all the towns and districts of the west, without, however, conducting an active campaign. In this way, it has maintained its visibility in the electoral game, but without actively competing with opposition candidates, so as not to help the AKP win.

However, the radical left is once again very divided in this campaign, and the variable-geometry alliances between the various formations can change from district to district.

Translated by International Viewpoint from l’Anticapitaliste.


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