The Turkish Local Elections Offer a Glimpse of the Future

March 28, 2019 Topic: Security Region: Middle East Tags: TurkeyElectionsPoliticsErdoganEconomy

The Turkish Local Elections Offer a Glimpse of the Future

What happens in Istanbul will serve as a microcosm for Turkey as whole.

The outcome of the elections will also be influenced by the control that Erdoğan enjoys over the media that prevents the opposition from airing its own perspective on a wide range of issues. This uneven playing field is not new and has been highlighted repeatedly by monitors from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). TRT, the state-owned media group financed by national taxes, was criticized for giving fifty-three hours of air time in February to the AKP-MHP alliance and only six hours to the opposition alliance. Worse yet, HDP received only seven minutes of airtime consisting exclusively of propaganda against it. Further advantages are the massive state resources that Erdoğan has mobilized to support his party’s campaign and fiscal policies designed to conceal economic problems and distribute sweeteners.

Finally, concerns exist about how secure and free the ballot boxes will be. Turkish democracy has always had its problems, but a general recognition existed that Turkey ran reasonably free and fair elections. This began in 1950, when executive control over elections was relinquished, and lasted until approximately 2014. The current government has done away with the practice of ministers of justice, interior, and transportation resigning from their posts to oversee elections, a tradition that began in 1950, and has also rescinded the regulation that prevented unstamped ballots from being counted to prevent ballot box stuffing. These practices have been criticized widely for undermining the security of elections and the quality of Turkish democracy.

More of the Same

On Sunday, Turkey’s democracy will be tested yet again. As a former high-ranking Turkish official and a member of the Turkish Parliament described it privately, the loss of Ankara and Istanbul or any combination of three out of the seven metropolitan centers could weaken the hand of Erdoğan and AKP. Nevertheless, because these are local elections, it would be unrealistic to expect a major impact on national politics. But what happens in Istanbul will serve as a microcosm for Turkey as whole. Together with the overall results, Istanbul’s loss by AKP could illustrate the mood of the electorate and provide some energy for the opposition in the longer term. This of course would depend on whether the opposition, especially the CHP, can overcome its weaknesses and develop a promising political program.

It is doubtful that even if the governing alliance were to sweep all seven metropolitan centers and receive a decisive majority of the overall votes, it would be possible to expect much positive change overall. Yet, the country is in desperate need of a political vision and a policy program that can heal its wounds and promote liberal democracy, the rule of law, minority rights, and civil liberties, in addition to improving market conditions and repairing Turkey’s external relations with its immediate neighborhood and beyond. In short, the problems Turkey currently faces are too many to expect significant improvements to come from a series of local elections, no matter the domestic importance that Erdoğan has accorded them. Come Monday, Turkey seems destined for more of the same.

Kemal Kirisci is the TUSIAD Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.