ANALYSIS: Why did Erdogan lose the local elections?

2024-04-01 20:26:44Fokus SHKRUAR NGA REDAKSIA VOX
Erdogan during the campaign

That Remember Soylu - Middle East Eye

When Ahmet Turan Han looked at some major polls he took from around the country two weeks before Turkey's local elections, he saw a "coming political tsunami".

Han polls showed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) would record heavy losses not only in major cities such as Istanbul, Ankara and Bursa, but also in other cities in the conservative heartland of Anatolia, such as Adiyaman and Afyon.

Then, on Sunday, the first election results came in, hinting at a much worse defeat for Erdogan and his party.

The AKP lost 11 cities it controlled since the 2019 elections and had very poor results in the five largest cities.

The result was surprising: Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) won the election for the first time since 1977, winning 37.7 percent of the vote, two percent more than the AKP.

This came just nine months after the May 2023 presidential election, in which Erdogan decisively won the race in the second round of voting.

But what has changed since then?

"Voters wanted to punish the government for a number of reasons, from inflation to Ankara's policy towards Palestine," Han, managing director of political consultancy and research firm Datailor, told Middle East Eye.

"Most Erdogan voters either stayed home or switched to right-wing parties that were not demonized by the government."

The answer was surprising. With 78.5 percent participation, it is the lowest since the 2004 elections.

Pensioners' protests

Han says his research shows that some of the nearly 16 million pensioners who mostly vote for Erdogan boycotted the election.

Several KPA sources told MEE that the government was aware of the pensioners' grievances but could not take steps to meet their demands as it would open a big hole in the budget, which is under heavy pressure to due to rampant inflation.

Currently the minimum monthly pension is 41 percent lower than the minimum wage in the country, therefore the retired part of society feels more worried than ever.

Han says the nature of the campaign and election this time was quite different compared to the presidential election.

"Voters were not really ready to vote for Erdogan in May last year, but they saw that election as a matter of survival," he said. After the earthquake, the opposition, with its grand alliance of One Hundred and Six, did not show the voters that they could do a good job, so in the end they decided to vote for Erdogan.

By comparison, the election campaign before Sunday's election was calmer and free of major tensions.

Several AKP sources told MEE that the party focused on the quality of its mayoral candidates in the election campaign and that they were less concerned about divisive issues.

"We believed that a non-divisive campaign would work in our favor and we wanted to turn this into a vote of confidence in Erdogan's rule," said one senior AKP official.

However, the strategy failed.

Compared to previous years, Erdogan ran a less visible campaign, did not give any television interviews, avoided large gatherings as in the past and did not use harsh rhetoric against his opponents.

"Erdogan has a special contact with the people in running the campaign. It was wrong to make Erdogan take the second place in the campaign", are the opinions of some AKP members.

But the AKP and Erdogan this time had another challenge in the Yeni Refah Party (the party founded by Nexhmetin Erbakan and now led by his son). This party won a significant number of votes that AKP was counting.

The Yeni Refah party has waged an aggressive campaign accusing Erdogan and his government of not doing enough to confront Israel over its bloody occupation of Palestine and of continuing to trade with Israel.

"When you combine the data on the AKP, the Yeni Refah Party and the voters who boycotted the elections, you get an approximate number of votes for Erdogan's party that was achieved last year," Han adds.

"We have time to recover the economy and focus on our goals," said an Ankara insider. "But Erdogan no longer has the same consistency. He is tired after many election cycles.”