Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) emerged the victor from Sunday's municipal elections. With over 45% of the overall votes the AKP improved on the 38.8% support it received during the 2009 elections.
The importance of these elections extends far beyond municipal governance. The vote was viewed as a bellwether for the forthcoming general elections by both the candidates and the 52 million voters who cast their ballots Sunday. The results confirmed the dominance of the AKP, and demonstrated that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan still maintains the trust of the Turkish people, even after a political crisis that has tarnished his image abroad.
Remarkably, after months of deflecting serious corruption allegations, Erdogan's loyal support base did not stray. To be sure Erdogan’s furious reaction to the probes, the resignations of some of the AKP's top politicians, and the AKP's firing of police and prosecutors has stirred significant public outrage among the opposition. The prime minister's subsequent shuttering of Twitter and Youtube further inflamed a secular opposition that was already seething over the government's heavy-handed response to the Gezi Park protests last year. However, it became clear on Sunday that the secular opposition is still fractured, lacks leadership, and has yet to pinpoint a strategy to challenge Erdogan's solid grip on power.
Erdogan declared his victory on Sunday night and vowed to take down his “rivals,” referring to the supporters of Pennsylvania-based cleric Fetullah Gulen, whom he blames for the corruption probes and the recent leaks. With an electoral win that was largely seen as a referendum on his performance, Erdogan may now announce his candidacy for the upcoming Presidential elections in August. This will be the first time Turkey’s President will be elected by popular vote since the time of country’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – a move that would carry great symbolism.
The People’s Republican Party (CHP), by contrast, is reeling. The AKP's primary competition nearly captured Turkey's capital, Ankara. Indeed, CHP mayoral candidate Mansur Yavas won 43.8% of the votes, significantly higher than the 31.5% the CHP captured in 2009. But it was still not enough. Similarly, in Istanbul, CHP candidate Mustafa Sarigul increased the CHP’s votes to 40% from 36.8% in 2009. Istanbul, which produces roughly half the country's GDP, is particularly important because the city’s local election results are often taken as an indicator for the general elections.
Questions remain, however, about whether the AKP tampered with the elections. There were also power cuts in 40 of Turkey’s 81 provinces during vote counts. Alleged lost ballot boxes have also sparked public outrage on social media over election fraud. These charges, coupled with ongoing corruption allegations, will continue to create headaches for the AKP, even as it celebrates its electoral success.
Merve Tahiroglu is a research associate at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, focusing on Turkey.