Turkish people went to polls for municipal elections on March 30, 2014. Results show that the governing Justice and Development Party (JDP) and its charismatic leader known with his authoritarian style Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had their sixth consecutive victory. Turnout rates for the elections were very high according to earlier results though the official results are still undeclared. Results show that JDP has got something around 45 %, whereas the pro-secular main opposition Republican People’s Party (RPP) got approximately 29 %, Turkish nationalist Nationalist Action Party got 15 % and pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (PDP) around 6 %. Elections were overshadowed by fraud claims coming from opposition parties. In many Turkish cities power cuts took place similar to 2009 local elections and this unfortunate event increased suspicions over the elections. Although for the country’s capital Ankara both JDP and RPP still claim victory, the results clearly show that Erdoğan somehow achieved to secure his place before the Presidential elections that will take place in this summer in the country first time by the direct popular vote. In this piece, I’ll try to analyze 2014 Turkish local elections.
Prime Minister Erdoğan successfully turned the local elections into a vote of confidence for his pragmatic Islamist vision. It seems like corruption scandals before the elections did not affect conservative voters since JDP lost only 5-6 % of votes compared to 2011 general elections in which they took around 50 % of total votes. Confrontation with charismatic Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania in the U.S., did not damage JDP votes as it was expected. Erdoğan’s authoritarian style is still very popular on the Turkish right. One thing is for certain; without a center-right party that could challenge Erdoğan’s power, JDP will continue to dominate Turkish politics since RPP and other parties could not appeal to Turkish conservatives.
Speaking from the balcony at his party’s headquarters in Ankara, Erdoğan thanked his supporters and said “You stood up for Turkey’s ideals… For politics, for your party and your Prime Minister”. He also warned that he would “enter the lair” of enemies who had accused him of corruption and leaked state secrets and added “They will pay for this”. Erdoğan now seems confident to become a candidate for Presidency although the opposition still seems to have chance to beat him in such an election in the second round if they could find a good candidate. JDP won 49 municipalities out of 81 in total, which is a great success especially in times of serious corruption scandals.
The real reason that lies behind Erdoğan and JDP’s success might be the successful economic management of the country compared to previous governments. Although Turkish economy is now growing with small numbers compared to 2002-2007 period, Erdoğan has prevented until now the emergence of an economic crisis during his 12 years of tenure in office. If Erdoğan steps up into the office of Presidency, it might be difficult for JDP to preserve their power without their charismatic leader. Erdoğan’s Presidency could be also dangerous for Turkish democracy if Erdoğan will continue to rule the country by choosing a showpiece “low profile” name for his post.
The main opposition RPP’s strategy for this elections seems to produce not good results although the party increased its votes 3 % compared to 2011 general elections (% 26). RPP was very assertive in metropolis cities like Ankara and İstanbul with new candidates such as Mustafa Sarıgül and Mansur Yavaş who could appeal to rightist segments in the country also. Both candidates increased party’s votes seriously but it still seems insufficient to win the elections. In Ankara, the dispute still continues and Yavaş claims victory against JDP candidate Melih Gökçek. Votes are very close (44 % to 43 %) and probably until the official declaration by the Turkish Supreme Electoral Council (Yüksek Seçim Kurulu) there will not be a winner. Even though RPP wins in Ankara, the results are still far from being a success.
Nationalist Action Party performed well in some cities and got new municipalities although they lost votes in big cities like İstanbul and Ankara. They won 8 municipalities and in some cities lost with small differences against JDP. It shows that NAP could do much more and challenge JDP power especially in Central Anatolia if they could come up with good candidates. The party could also face with a new leadership race within since reactions against the party chair Devlet Bahçeli are increasing. Bahçeli has always praised for his embracement of democracy and not leaving his party members turning into streets against Kurdish secessionist movements by other political party members. However, there are also reactions within the party (NAP) against Bahçeli’s cold-blooded and responsible attitude. Thus, hardliners in NAP could challenge Bahçeli’s leadership in the case of escalation on Kurdish issue. Finally, it must be said that NAP is successful in this election and could get around 20 % of the total votes in the next general elections easily. One should not forget that many of NAP supporters voted for JDP or RPP candidates in big cities but in general elections they will vote for their own party.
Peace and Democracy Party won 11 municipalities all in south-eastern Anatolia, which shows that the Kurdish question in Turkey is now a localized problem centered around Kurdish populated cities in the south-east region. The good thing about the party is that they encourage women participation into politics and two of their new municipal leaders (Gültan Kışanak and Dilek Hatipoğlu) are female politicians. PDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş previously announced that they are ready to declare autonomy after the elections. Geopolitical changes in Iraq and Syria in the recent years make PDP members and supporters more courageous about their demands for education in Kurdish language, peace negotiations with the armed PKK and even self-declared autonomy. However, PDP’s demands are still perceived as dangerous and extreme by the Turkish state.
Although totally they lost votes compared to previous elections, JDP and Erdoğan are clear winners of this election. The results show that pro-secular RPP’s natural borders in Turkish context is around 30 % for the moment and JDP’s power could be challenged only by another rightist party (obviously NAP could not do this). Thus, after the Presidential elections, we can see new efforts to resurrect the liberal center-right tradition in the country against the Islamic authoritarian tradition of Erdoğan and JDP. Kurdish question will be on the top of the agenda and make like more difficult to JDP and Erdoğan. Erdoğan’s decision for Presidency will be a key factor in addition RPP and NAP’s decision in the Presidential elections. If two parties collaborate, they could have a chance with a moderate name in the Presidential race and also for a coalition government in the next elections.
 Earlier victories were in 2002, 2007 and 2011 general elections and 2004 and 2009 local elections.
 “NTV Seçim 2014”, NTV, Date of Accession: 01.04.2014 from http://secim.ntv.com.tr/2014-yerel-secimleri/canli-sonuc.
 “Seçim oyunu mu? Elektrikler kesildi”, Cumhuriyet, Date of Accession: 31.03.2014 from http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/turkiye/55673/Secim_oyunu_mu__Elektrikler_kesildi.html.
 RPP and NAP votes totally make 44 % which is nearly equal to JDP votes. But these two parties differ on certain policies since RPP comes from Kemalist tradition and tries to transform into a pro-European social democratic party whereas NAP has always been a Turkish nationalist party.
 “BDP’nin kazandığı iller”, Hürriyet, Date of Accession: 31.03.2014 from http://fotogaleri.hurriyet.com.tr/galeridetay/81020/2/1/bdpnin-kazandigi-iller.