Local elections mark a new era in Turkish politics - analyst

Turkey’s March 31 local elections have the potential to initiate a new, post-ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) era if the country’s election council can manage demands for a recount of invalid votes without undermining its own authority, wrote Soli Özel, visiting fellow at the independent think tank Institut Montaigne.

Turkey’s local elections are as significant as those of 1994, wrote Özel, stressing that elected mayors from the Islamist precursor of Turkey’s ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) taking over Turkey’s two most important cities of Ankara and Istanbul came as a shock 25 years ago.

What started the gradual political domination of the Islamist movement from the municipal level to the national led to the rise of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, he said.

Thirteen days have passed since the local elections in Turkey and the country’s Supreme Election Council (YSK) is now undermining its own already significantly shaken authority and legitimacy by the measures and decisions it has taken, Özel highlighted.

The council has broken its own rules in accepting the irregular appeals demanding a recount of invalid votes that emanated from the ruling AKP in İstanbul and elsewhere, he stressed, however has been unwilling to consider similar appeals when they came from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in the Southeast.

 Furthermore, it refused to share the document needed to formally take office with several HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) mayor-elects and council member-elects, citing their expulsion from their previous jobs by an emergency decrees issued following the July 2016 coup attempt.

How the artificial deadlock in Istanbul is overcome, will determine whether Turkey will gradually restore its electoral and democratic, credentials or cast a shadow on the legitimacy of the country’s increasingly authoritarian political order, the article said.

Following 25 years of steady rise and of consolidation of the power and a stream of electoral successes, Turkey’s Islamist movement has seemingly hit a road bump.  

Despite the fact that he is still the country’s most popular politician Özel said, Erdoğan is now highly constrained in his future choices by the ideological proclivities of his current political partner, the ultra-nationalist MHP (Nationalist Movement Party).

'’Pending the decision of the High Electoral Board on Istanbul, Turkey is at a crossroads. One road will lead the country to a gradual restoration of electoral and democratic principles and processes, and potentially to a reshuffling of the electoral map,’’ Özel said.

With that being said, it would not be imprudent to suggest that a new era has begun in Turkish politics - for better or for worse, Özel concluded.