Rifts in Turkey's ruling party could lead to early elections - pro gov't columnist

The loss of important cities, including Istanbul and Ankara, in this year’s local elections is a stronger blow to Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) than President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is letting on, and the rifts in the party could lead to early elections, said Abdulkadir Selvi, a writer known for his links to the AKP, in a column for Turkish daily Hürriyet.

Erdoğan has told AKP lawmakers that the loss of mayoral races in the capital city of Ankara, the country’s largest city and financial hub, Istanbul, and four more of its 10 largest cities was not of great consequence, Selvi said.

The statements are a far cry from the president’s rhetoric in the run-up to the March 31 polls, in which Erdoğan said the local elections were a “matter of national survival” and accused opposition politicians of plotting with enemies of the country.

Selvi said Erdoğan appears to have decided to blame his losses on March 31 and in the June 23 Istanbul rerun on “backstabbers” and “traitors” rather than engaging in sincere self-criticism and reshuffling his cabinet.

Yet, it may be a mistake for Erdoğan to disregard the importance of opposition victories and the role of his party’s mistakes in them, Selvi said, warning that the “ground has started to shift” under the ruling party since the elections.

One reason for that is the AKP’s attempt to hang on to Istanbul, which voted for main opposition Republican People’s Party mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu with a slim majority on March 31. The ruling party came out in force to attempt to change the result through recounts, before pressuring the Supreme Election Council (YSK) to hold a rerun on the grounds that electoral fraud had taken place.

This created a sense of victimhood around the CHP candidate that helped him achieve a landslide victory when the rerun was held on June 23, Selvi said, adding that İmamoğlu’s excellent handling of pressure throughout the process had also played a major role in his win.

Whether İmamoğlu can continue that success until 2023, when the next presidential and parliamentary elections are due to be held, will be a main driver of the results of those elections, Selvi said.

However, with the decision of former AKP stalwarts, including ex-deputy prime minister Ali Babacan, former president Abdullah Gül and former prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, to form two new political parties, the wait for another vote may not be that long, said the columnist.

Some commentators have speculated that early elections could be called if a large enough number of AKP deputies defect to new political parties.

It would not be simple to force through early elections, as this would require a large majority in parliament.