Mar 14 2019

Erdoğan’s party likely to win Turkey local polls, despite problems - AFP

The Turkish local elections on March 31 come at a tricky time for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), but it will likely still get the biggest share of the votes even if it faces some fall in support, Agence France Press reported on Thursday.

Turkish voters will head to the polls to elect mayors for 30 metropolitan municipalities and 51 provincial municipalities, as well as other local posts such as district mayors, members of district assemblies and neighbourhood chiefs.

The Turkish government and the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are under the pressure of an economic downturn, with the economy shrinking by 2.4 percent on a quarterly basis in the three months to December, while inflation stands at almost 20 percent. In an effort to alleviate the effects of increasing food prices, the government last month opened stores in some key provinces like Ankara and Istanbul to provide fruit and vegetables below the market rates. 

"The AKP is reaching the limits of its economic model. Living standards are not growing," Berk Esen, an assistant professor of international relations at Ankara's Bilkent University, told AFP.

But according to some experts, the economic problems might not necessarily mean the AKP will suffer huge losses on March 31. 

"The AKP may lose some votes because of its mismanagement of the economy, but the magnitude of that loss may not be big enough to consider the elections a loss for the AKP,” Menderes Çınar, a professor of political science and international relations at Başkent University, told AFP.

Emre Erdoğan, a professor of political science at Istanbul Bilgi University, said the AKP’s alliance with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in elections could offset losses in votes and even disgruntled AKP backers were unlikely to switch loyalties. "Voters looking to punish them may not go to the opposition side for ideological reasons," he said.

According to Burak Bilgehan Özpek, associate professor of international relations at TOBB University, emotions will play a huge role in the elections, as voters are frustrated with all parties and as a result turn out could be lower than in previous elections.

Yakup Peker, at the Ankara-based TEPAV think-tank, told AFP that the AKP or its People's Alliance could lose voters who might not come out and vote, partly because of a lack of alternatives.

According to Esen, middle-class voters who once benefitted from the AKP’s economic policies, may turn against the ruling party by not turning out to vote as recession hits their wallets. 

The experts say it is unlikely the opposition will win in Istanbul, where the AKP’s candidate is the former prime minister, Binali Yıldırım, yet they expect a tight race in Ankara, where the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate is Mansur Yavaş, a politician coming from a nationalist background.