Resuls of Turkey's elections held on 31 March to local bodies have triggered heated debates within and outside the country. In the polls that saw a turnout of 84 per cent voters, out of the 12 main cities of the country including Istanbul, Ankara, Antalia, Adana and Mercin, seven were captured by the Nation Alliance of Republican People's Party (CHP), Good Party (IP), Democratic Party (DP), and Felicity Party (SP) from the people's alliance comprising Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). While Istanbul is the nerve centre of Turkey's economy, capital Ankara is where its political pivot lies. It is after almost a quarter of a century that Istanbul, where Erdogan began his victorious march, falls off the hands of the ruling coalition by a narrow majority. All the same, Erdogan's alliance led the overall tally in results. The people's alliance that polled 51.4 per cent of the total 84 per cent, came to power in 778 municipalities, 16 metropolises, 24 cities, 538 counteies and 200 towns. In municipalities, 44.95 per cent votes were won by AK Party and 6.80 per cent by by MHP, while the Opposition CHP won 30.5 per cent, IP 7.39 per cent and DP 4.01 per cent. For the first time in the country, AK party also made major inroads into the Kurdish regions.
The results of the local bodies election, held for the first time after Erdogan's huge victory in the last elections in June, is being assessed from different perspectives. The polls came in the background of allegations from the international community that Erdogan who arrested around 45,000 people including civil society leaders, lawyers, judges, academicians and mediapersons, was crushing freedom of expression. On the other hand , the ruling coalition and their votaries highlight the fact that it was a natural reflection of Turkey's inherent democratic ethos which gave an opportunity for a multi-party election and campaigning, and thereby for declaration of results with major gains for the Opposition. The Opposition also hold up the result of the setbacks suffered by the ruling AK Party in its strongholds just 9 months after the national election, as a proof of the people getting fed up with regime, Erdogan's strongarm policies and resultant economic setbacks in the country.
Towards the end of last year Turkey slipped to a big economic recession. America is enraged over Turkey's arrest of US pastor Andrew Branson on the grounds of alleged role in the military coup two years ago. President Trump cited this while raising a threat of embargo, and as a first step made drastic hike in export tariff to Turkey. Although Trump, an exponent of religious racism raised the issue of house arrest of the pastor in Turkey, the real provocation is that Turkey which stands by Russia on the issue of Syrian crisis, decided to buy Russian S-400 missiles. When Trump was settling scores over this, the Turkish currency was seen fast depreciating against the dollar and euro. The steps to counter this and to tide over the crisis have not been yielded enough results. And it is because this hurt the urban regions the most that Erdogan's alliance suffered setbacks in big cities. Inflation touched 20 per cent, and the Turkish Lira slumped in value over the last year by 28 per cent, and is going down further. Unemployment among youth is estimated at 10 to 30 per cent. And it is an opposition allegation that cannot be easily dismissed that the populace who were alive to these stark facts, had their revenge at the first opportunity they got through the ballot.
Seeing the defeat in local elections in urban areas as a reversal, the opposition – and western regimes and media toeing them – say that it s the beginning of the end of Erdogan's autocratic era. But AK Party argues that the local elections are not to be mixed up with national politics. In a country that switched to the presidential model, local governments have little to do in regime change or correction in the country's course. That remaining so, election results do give clear warnings to Erdogan. Western media say that it is not only from the opposition, but from inside AK party itself, that there are attempts at polarisation by former finance minister Ali Babakan in collusion with former president Abdulla Gul. That is to say, Erdogan who survived a threat of being overthrown, has still some swords hanging over his head. Probably reading hints that further steps forward should be with ample caution, Erdogan made a statement that he accepted the result in a democratic way, would give priority to making the country secure in the next four and a half years by holding everybody in the country together. And that is the path being shown by the pro-president social critics and media too. There is no other way for Erdogan and Turkey to save themselves than this recognition and retracing.