Turkey is entering the final leg of campaigning before municipal elections are held on March 30. This is just the beginning of a series of elections: Presidential elections are scheduled for the summer and early general elections may be called before the end of 2014. Turkish political history tells us that if the leading party, in this case the Justice and Development Party (AKP), loses more than 10 percent of the vote in the municipal elections, the prime minister usually seeks a renewal of mandate by calling early general elections.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is on the defensive after a series of corruption charges were brought against members of his government. He claims that the corruption probe is a “judicial coup” attempt to topple the elected government. He is rallying his support base to come to the polls and “slap the opposition in the face” with another majority vote.
He may not get what he wants. Even though his campaign is in formidable shape Erdoğan has not convinced everybody that his party deserves the resounding performances of the past. While watching one of Erdoğan’s rallies, a local shopkeeper in Istanbul said: “He is still talking about how many kilometers of road he has built, but he hasn’t said anything about the millions of dollars in his phone conversations,” in reference to leaked phone tapes of conversations between Erdoğan and his son.
The main opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), and its leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, are also in the heartland of Anatolia campaigning for their candidates. Istanbul is in a dead heat as CHP’s candidate Mustafa Sarıgül appeals not only to the CHP’s traditional supporters but also to conservatives and undecided center-right voters. Winning Istanbul would be a huge victory for the secular party which lost the city to Islamists twenty years ago. In contrast, CHP may have a harder time regaining the resort town of Antalya as the challenger there is Menderes Türel, a former mayor of the AKP who nicely distances himself from the conservative agenda and Erdoğan’s divisive politics.
The wild cards of these elections are the two parties that will also decide on the future of the Kurdish peace talks. The right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) are at the far ends of the political spectrum but seem to be gaining ground among young voters. The MHP’s leader recently slammed Erdoğan for the way he has handled the corruption scandal and claimed the MHP would eliminate corruption if granted power. While the BDP still sees Erdoğan as the best chance of achieving a permanent peace between Kurds and Turks, Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chair of BDP, recently made it clear that Kurds will not sit on a pile of dirt for the sake of peace. Gültan Kışanak, the first female mayoral candidate for the BDP in Diyarbakır, said: “Peace must absolutely be clean.”
The death of fifteen-year-old Berkin Elvan last week will further weaken the AKP’s position. The teenager was hit by a gas canister fired by police during the Gezi Park protests in June last year and lay in a coma for months until he passed away on Tuesday. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in almost every big city in Turkey during his funeral on March 12. There were clashes in Istanbul and several people were injured. These protests may secure a greater number of votes for the CHP from those who are tired of the AKP's heavy-handed tactics.
All views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, The Majalla magazine.