Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to have sustained heavy damage from the aftermath of 31 March municipal elections. The coalition between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Erdogan and the Nationalist Movement Party (MPH) led by Devlet Bahceli managed to retain the overall vote with 51.63%. Meanwhile, the opposition coalition secured 37.55% according to latest results issued by Turkey’s Supreme Election Council.
Still the coalition lost three major municipalities, the hubs of modern Turkish state. These entail the capital Ankara, Istanbul and the port-city of Izmir in the Anatolia region. The surrender of Ankara to opposition party occurs for the first time in last 25 years. The second major blow, the loss of Istanbul also bears particular resonance. President Erdogan initiated his political career from Istanbul as the city’s mayor twenty years ago. Since then, the AKP party have consistently won local elections. In Izmir the results look even worse for President Erdogan. The local candidate of AKP party lurked at least 20 points behind opposition counterpart.
The Message of Turkish Municipal Elections
The outcome of municipal elections may possibly incite a chain of events in Turkish political scene. The municipal elections largely became a referendum on President Erdogan’s policies particularly in the aftermath of June 2018 presidential elections. The last elections legitimised an array of constitutional amendments increasing the mandate of Turkish President against the parliament and judicial authorities.
The outcome of municipal elections will further complicate Ankara’s relations with the Kurdish minority leaving in the south-eastern part of the country and Kurdish populations located in the periphery of Turkey’s boundaries. President Erdogan may possibly retain the tough stance against Kurdish coalition forces in Syria in particular, even though municipal results challenges the President’s leadership in the south-eastern part of the country. There, the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) won the majority of votes, reclaiming the majority of seats in local assemblies. This development may possibly increase friction with Ankara government which in the past replaced elected mayors with new trustees, under charges of sponsoring terrorist activities perpetrated by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Municipal Elections and Financial Recession
The outcome of municipal elections in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir may also be portrayed as a kind of criticism by the broader public to the government’s policies with respect to the national economy. During recent months, the Turkish lira was devalued by over 30% while inflation peaked at 20% and current unemployment figures have reached 11%. These statistics reveal that at least one in five young people currently remains long-term unemployed.
These statistics have also brought about shocks in food prices which rose more than 30% since 2018 equivalents. In the wake of elections, President Erdogan officially declared war on food inflation and announced an array of controversial measures to be implemented in due course. In the aftermath of elections, Erdogan admitted on Sunday night that national economy becomes the number one priority in his agenda en route to the next national elections scheduled to be held in 2023. In line with President Erdogan’s statements:
‘We have a long period ahead where we will carry out economic reforms without compromising on the rules of the free-market economy…If there are any shortcomings, it is our duty to correct them.’
President Erdogan increasingly appears unable to help Turkey regurgitate its national economy. Last week the Turkish President adopted the hardline rhetoric of his coalition partner, Mr. Bahceli and blamed external forces, particularly the West, for Turkish financial woes. Criticism was also directed against the Turkish Central Bank which according to the President should reduce interest rates to facilitate economic recovery.