LOCAL ELECTIONS IN TURKEY - THE MARCH 31 ANALYSIS - SETA

 
THE MARCH 31

LOCAL ELECTIONS
   IN TURKEY
   NEBI MIŞ   •   HAZAL DURAN

                  ANALYSIS      MARCH 2019 NO.50
THE MARCH 31

LOCAL ELECTIONS
   IN TURKEY

   NEBI MIŞ   •   HAZAL DURAN
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THE MARCH 31 LOCAL ELECTIONS IN TURKEY

CONTENTS

ABSTRACT                                                                     7
INTRODUCTION                                                                 8
LEADING DYNAMICS OF THE MARCH 2019 LOCAL ELECTIONS                           9
WHAT THE MARCH 2019 ELECTION MEANS TO POLITICAL PARTIES                     12
VISIONS FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT: FROM PAST TO PRESENT			                       15
CONCLUSION                                                                  25

s e ta v. o rg                                                                   5
ANALYSIS

    ABOUT THE AUTHORS

    Nebi Miş
    Nebi Miş is the Director of Political Studies at the SETA Foundation. He is also faculty
    member in the department of Political Sciences and Public Administration, and the Middle
    East Institute of Sakarya University. Dr. Miş received his BA in International Relations
    from Sakarya University in 2003, and his MA in 2005. He received his Ph.D. from Sakarya
    University upon completion of his doctoral thesis titled “Securitization Politics of Turkey:
    1923-2003” in 2012. He also worked as a researcher for Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in
    Belgium for a year during his Ph.D. studies. His research areas include political systems
    and institutions, democratization, Kurdish issue, Turkish civil-military relations, security
    politics in Turkey, Islamism and democratization in the Middle East. His articles have been
    published in various national and international academic journals. Dr. Mis is also the co-
    editor and co-writer of several books such as “Democracy Watch: Social Perception of 15
    July Coup Attempt”, “Turkey’s Presidential System: Model and Practices”, “The AK Party’s
    Fifteen Years in Politics”.

    Hazal Duran
    Hazal Duran graduated from TOBB University of Economics and Technology Departments
    of International Relations and Turkish Language and Literature (double major) in 2012. She
    completed her MA in Modern Turkish Studies (MTS) at İstanbul Şehir University. Duran con-
    tinues her doctoral studiesat Bilkent University, Department of Political Science. She works
    as a Researcher at SETA Ankara Directorate of Political Studies.

6                                                                                                  s e ta v. o rg
THE MARCH 31 LOCAL ELECTIONS IN TURKEY

ABSTRACT

    The analysis explains the March 2019 local election’s
    significance to Turkish politics and concentrates on the
    ways in which the visions of various politi­cal parties
    for local government have changed over the years.

On March 31, 2019, Turkey will hold local elections in 30 metropolitan districts,
51 provinces, 922 counties, 32,105 neighborhoods, and 18,306 villages. This lo-
cal election will be the fifteenth electoral contest since the Justice and Develop-
ment Party (AK Party) came to power 17 years ago. Yet there will be a range of
new dynamics at play, as Turkey’s political arena undergoes major changes. The
April 2017 constitutional referendum facilitated the country’s transition from
the parliamentary system of government to a type of presidentialism known
as the “Presidency System of Government.” The country’s political arena has
been reshaped under the new system. On June 24, 2018, Turkey held a national
election for the first time under presidentialism. Parliamentary and presidential
elections took place on the same day and various political parties contested races
by forming electoral alliances among themselves. Those alliances made a signifi-
cant impact on the election results.
A large number of political parties will participate in the March 2019 local
election as part of broader electoral alliances. As a matter of fact, those electoral
alliances have deepened since last year’s national election, with each alliance
endorsing a joint mayoral candidate in many provinces. In some cases, they even
jointly nominated a group of candidates for the city council. As such, Turkey
will discover for the first time how electoral alliances will influence voter behav-
ior in local races.
This analysis explains the March 2019 local election’s significance to Turkish
politics and concentrates on the ways in which the visions of various politi-
cal parties for local government have changed over the years. Accordingly, the
analysis primarily discusses the upcoming election’s key dynamics. It proceeds
to analyze the March 2019 election’s significance for each major political party’s
internal agenda and future projections. Moreover, this analysis offers a detailed
account of how each political party’s vision for local government has changed
over the years and how their respective visions have been tailored for the 2019
local election campaign. Finally, it identifies a number of issues that will pos-
sibly set the post-election political agenda in Turkey.

s e ta v. o rg                                                                                      7
ANALYSIS

                                                        (CHP), the Good Party, and the Felicity Party
                                                        (SP) together on the basis of opposition to the
                                                        AK Party and Turkish President Recep Tayyip
                                                        Erdoğan. In the end, President Erdoğan and
                                                        the AK Party claimed their fourteenth con-
                                                        secutive victory, including parliamentary and
                                                        presidential elections, and constitutional refer-
                                                        endums. Having received 52.59 percent of the
                                                        popular vote, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became
                                                        Turkey’s first president under the new system
                                                        of government. The People’s Alliance, which
                                                        the AK Party and the MHP had formed joint-
                                                        ly, attained parliamentary majority with 53.66
                                                        percent. The AK Party claimed 295 parliamen-
    INTRODUCTION                                        tary seats with 42.56 percent of the vote and
    The June 2018 presidential and parliamenta-         the People’s Alliance, together with the MHP’s
    ry elections, which took place shortly before       49 parliamentarians, managed to control a to-
    the 2019 local election, represented a turn-        tal of 344 seats.1
    ing point in Turkey’s political history for two           Turkey’s formal transition to the presiden-
    reasons. First, those elections were a critical     tial system after the June 2018 elections raised
    threshold for the transformation of the coun-       a number of questions about the potential
    try’s political system since the transition to      impact of the new rules and the introduction
    presidentialism had already been accepted by        of electoral alliances in the first local election
    the April 16, 2017 constitutional referendum.       under the new system. In this regard, each po-
    Moreover, various political parties could form      litical party assessed how joining an electoral
    electoral alliances for the first time under the    alliance might help or hurt them. In the end,
    new rules, which set apart the June 2018 elec-      they decided to join forces in what they con-
    tions from previous electoral contests.             sidered key districts. Whereas the AK Party
          Ahead of the June 2018 elections, Tur-        and the MHP jointly endorsed candidates in
    key’s leading political parties formed two ma-      51 provinces and many counties, the CHP
    jor alliances. The AK Party and the National-       and the Good Party adopted the same strategy
    ist Movement Party (MHP) formally joined            in 50 provinces. The Peoples’ Democratic Par-
    forces, with the implicit support of the Grand      ty (HDP), in turn, supported the CHP-Good
    Union Party (BBP), to contest the election as       Party alliance by not contesting the election in
    part of the People’s Alliance - whose stated pur-   11 provinces.
    pose was to protect Turkey’s interests at home
                                                        1. For analyses of the June 2018 election results, see Ali Çarkoğlu
    and abroad with an emphasis on native and           and Kerem Yıldırım, “Change and Continuity in Turkey’s June 2018
                                                        Elections”, Insight Turkey, Vol: 20, No: 4 (2018); Nebi Miş, “Yeni
    national values. Its opponent, the Nation Al-       Siyasal Sistemin İlk Seçimleri ve Sonuçlarının Karşılaştırmalı Analizi”
    liance, brought the Republican People’s Party       [A Comparative Analysis of the First Election under the New Political
                                                        System and Its Outcome], Muhafazakar Düşünce, No: 54, (2018).

8                                                                                                            s e ta v. o rg
THE MARCH 31 LOCAL ELECTIONS IN TURKEY

              TABLE 1. ELECTORAL ALLIANCES AMONG POLITICAL PARTIES BY PROVINCE
 The People’s Alliance                              The Nation Alliance                          HDP
                                                                                                 Provinces Where the HDP
 Provinces Where the MHP Will Support the           Provinces Where the Good Party Will
                                                                                                 Will not Contest in Favor of
 AK Party                                           Support the CHP
                                                                                                 the Nation Alliance

 Ağrı, Ankara, Antalya, Ardahan, Artvin, Aydın,     Adana, Ankara, Antalya Artvin,
 Balıkesir, Bilecik, Bitlis, Bolu, Burdur, Bursa,   Aydın, Bartın Bilecik, Bolu, Burdur
 Çanakkale, Denizli, Diyarbakır, Eskişehir,         Bursa, Çanakkale, Edirne, Erzincan,          Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir,
 Erzurum, Gaziantep, Giresun, Hakkari, Hatay,       Eskişehir, Giresun, Hatay, Istanbul,         Adana, Mersin, Hatay, Aydın,
 Istanbul, Izmir, Kahramanmaraş, Kocaeli,           Izmir, Kahramanmaraş, Kastamonu,             Antalya, Bursa, Gaziantep,
 Konya, Malatya, Mardin, Muğla, Muş, Ordu,          Kırklareli, Kırşehir, Malatya, Muğla,        Adıyaman
 Rize, Sakarya, Samsun, Siirt, Sinop, Şanlıurfa,    Sinop, Tekirdağ, Tunceli, Yalova,
 Şırnak, Tekirdağ, Trabzon, Van, Yalova             Zonguldak

 Provinces Where the AK Party Will Support          Provinces Where the CHP Will
 the MHP                                            Support the Good Party

                                                    Afyonkarahisar, Aksaray, Balıkesir,
                                                    Denizli, Düzce Elazığ, Gaziantep,
 Adana, Iğdır, Kars, Kırklareli, Manisa, Mersin,    Isparta, Kayseri, Kırıkkale, Kilis,
 Osmaniye                                           Kocaeli, Konya, Manisa, Nevşehir,
                                                    Osmaniye, Sakarya, Samsun, Tokat,
                                                    Trabzon, Yozgat

     The 2019 local election campaign was                       political parties.2 Consequently, all political
distinguished from earlier campaigns due to                     parties attempted to reach out to the elector-
localized alliances and comprehensive chang-                    ate through social media campaigns and by
es to their campaign strategies. Under the                      launching their own digital platforms. More-
AK Party’s leadership, the People’s Alliance                    over, they developed digital platforms to facili-
pledged to run an “eco-friendly campaign” by                    tate rapid and effective communication among
refraining from noise and visual pollution. In                  their members and the campaign staff.
this context, the alliance largely stopped hang-
ing banners on the streets, using plastic and
paper campaign material, and driving vehicles                   LEADING DYNAMICS OF
around districts. Other political parties largely               THE MARCH 2019
followed suit.                                                  LOCAL ELECTIONS
     The March 2019 election was also distin-
                                                                From late 2018 onwards, the main item on
guished from previous races by the emphasis
                                                                the agenda of Turkey’s political parties was
on digital campaigns at the expense of tra-
                                                                how electoral alliances would be shaped. The
ditional campaign methods. Technological
                                                                AK Party and the MHP were first to announce
advancements and developments in the area
                                                                publicly that they were interested in joining
of digital communication had an impact on
                                                                forces for the local election. Spokespeople
the relationship between society and politics,
and changed voters’ expectations from major                     2. Nebi Miş, “Dijital Seçim Kampanyası, Ama Nasıl?” [A Digital Election
                                                                Campaign, But How?], Türkiye, 18 December 2018.

s e ta v. o rg                                                                                                                            9
ANALYSIS

     for both movements reiterated their commit-      time, the CHP and the Good Party had al-
     ment to “native and domestic values,” which      legedly agreed to jointly endorse candidates
     formed the basis of the partnership after the    in some provinces and the HDP was going
     July 15, 2016 coup attempt. Several develop-     to support their alliance.3 That allegation,
     ments, however, drove a wedge between the        combined with the earlier decision by the AK
     two parties around the same time. First, the     Party and the MHP to contest the election
     MHP introduced an amnesty bill - one of the      alone, indicated that the post-coup attempt
     party’s campaign promises - in the Turkish       war on terrorism at home and abroad, and
     Parliament. The AK Party’s reluctance to sup-    the presidential system’s progress could be in
     port the bill had a negative impact on its re-   jeopardy.4 Therefore, the AK Party and the
     lationship with the MHP. This disagreement       MHP decided to join forces once again in the
     was followed by a dispute over the Council       March 2019 local election.
     of State’s ruling to repeal the 2013 abolition         Another issue that came up during this
     of the pledge of allegiance. On October 23,      period related to the method of electoral al-
     2018, the AK Party and the MHP announced         liances in local elections. The February 2018
     that they would not join forces in the local     regulation on electoral alliances allowed po-
     election - although they added that they         litical parties to formally work together in
     would continue to work together in all other     parliamentary elections alone. Under those
     areas. Several weeks later, however, they re-    rules, political parties could contest parlia-
     sumed negotiations for an electoral alliance.    mentary elections together, whereas candi-
                                                      dates and parties had to work individually in
                                                      local elections.5 In other words, there were
      Alliance negotiations between
                                                      limited options available to political parties
     the AK Party and the MHP took
                                                      that wanted to form alliances in local elec-
      place in a positive atmosphere                  tions. Candidates endorsed by multiple par-
          and ended in a short time.                  ties could enter the race as independents or
                                                      on the ticket of any party to the electoral al-
           Against the backdrop of the AK Party’s     liance. That requirement caused occasional
     difficulties with the MHP, talks between the     problems in negotiations among the politi-
     representatives of the CHP, the Good Par-        cal parties.
     ty, the HDP, and the Felicity Party ensued.            Alliance negotiations between the CHP
     First, CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu           and the Good Party, for example, repeatedly
     held talks with the leaders of the Good Party,   came to a standstill due to conflicts of inter-
     the HDP, and the Felicity Party individu-
     ally. The media reported that those political    3. “CHP ile İyi Parti Uzlaştı” [CHP and the Good Party Reach an
                                                      Agreement], Yenişafak, December 12, 2018.
     parties saw the disagreement between the
                                                      4. Burhanettin Duran, “İttifaklarda Son Durum” [The Latest on Electoral
     AK Party and MHP as an opportunity and,          Alliances], Sabah, November 23, 2018.

     therefore, resolved to form an alliance on the   5. “Seçimlerin Temel Hükümleri ve Seçmen Kütükleri Hakkında Kanun
                                                      ile Bazı Kanunlarda Değişiklik Yapılmasına İlişkin Kanun” [The Law on
     basis of shared principles. Around the same      Amendments to the Law on the Fundamental Rules of Elections and
                                                      Voter Registries and Some Other Laws], Resmi Gazete, March 16, 2018.

10                                                                                                         s e ta v. o rg
THE MARCH 31 LOCAL ELECTIONS IN TURKEY

ests between the two movements. Both sides                                        local election would have an impact on the dy-
claimed to be more likely to win local races                                      namics of national politics: “The most recent
in key provinces including Ankara, Adana,                                         developments in our region mean that March
Anlalya, and Mersin. As a matter of fact, Bül-                                    31 will be much more than just a municipal
ent Tezcan, who represented the CHP in the                                        election. The election has become a question
negotiations, was allegedly sacked after failing                                  of survival for our country and an election
to manage the fallout from the inconclusive                                       about national survival.”7 MHP Chairman
talks. Although the two parties announced                                         Devlet Bahçeli echoed the same sentiment in
that their negotiations continued without                                         his response to critics of the national survival
interruption and on the basis of shared prin-                                     discourse: “Those who question the relation-
ciples, lengthy talks were needed before they                                     ship between the March 31 local election and
shook hands on a deal.                                                            the question of national survival suffer not
     By contrast, alliance negotiations between                                   only from ill intentions but also problematic
the AK Party and the MHP took place in a                                          national identity. The People’s Alliance must
positive atmosphere and ended in a short time.                                    succeed on March 31 to ensure that the debate
The two parties initially announced that they                                     on [presidentialism] does not resurface.”8
had reached an agreement on a strategy for the                                          For the AK Party and the MHP, the elec-
metropolitan municipalities. They proceeded                                       tion evolved into a question of national sur-
to broaden the scope of their partnership and                                     vival for three reasons. Primarily, the CHP-
decided to work together in additional prov-                                      Good Party-HDP bloc openly challenged the
inces and counties. The scope of the CHP’s al-                                    legitimacy of the presidential system - as they
liance with the Good Party, on the contrary,                                      had done the year before. In the lead-up to the
did not become clear until they submitted                                         June 2018 elections, all three movements had
their candidate lists to the Supreme Electoral                                    called for the parliamentary system’s restora-
Board on the final day.                                                           tion and pledged to take the necessary steps
     Local elections in Turkey have tradition-                                    in that direction without delay if they won the
ally been not just a means to shape local gov-                                    election. As a matter of fact, they attempted
ernments but also an opportunity to restore                                       to issue a joint statement on that question.
the public’s confidence in national politics.6                                    Those parties’ approach and rationale regard-
In this sense, it became clear that the March                                     ing the presidential system motivated the AK
2019 local election would reflect on Turkish                                      Party and the MHP that the March 2019 local
politics in general when the question of na-                                      election represented a critical threshold for the
tional survival became a key issue in the cam-                                    survival of the new political system. After all,
paign. Spokespeople for the AK Party and the                                      consolidating the presidential system was vi-
MHP repeatedly highlighted that the election                                      tal to the lasting institutionalization necessary
was vital to Turkey’s survival. Turkish Presi-
dent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned that the                                         7. “Erdoğan: 31 Mart Seçimleri Bir Beka Meselesi” [Erdoğan: The March
                                                                                  31 Election Is a Matter of National Survival], Türkiye, January 28, 2019.
                                                                                  8. “Devlet Bahçeli’den Flaş Sözler: 31 Mart Tarihi Bir Eşiktir” [A Surprise
6. F. Michael Wuthrich, National Elections in Turkey: People, Politics, and the   Statement by Devlet Bahçeli: March 31 is a Historic Threshold], Hürriyet,
Party System, (Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY: 2015).                    February 26, 2019.

s e ta v. o rg                                                                                                                                                  11
ANALYSIS

     for Turkey to reach its future goals.9 That the                             The final dimension of the “national sur-
     CHP-Good Party-HDP bloc would openly                                  vival” question related to efforts to undermine
     question the validity of the presidential system                      the Turkish economy through manipulations,
     if they were to win local races in key metro-                         which was what happened after the June 2018
     politan districts, such as Istanbul and Ankara,                       elections. After last year’s election, the Turkish
     turned the March 2019 campaign into much                              Lira’s rapid depreciation against the U.S. Dol-
     more than just mere local elections.                                  lar and the steady increase in the inflation rate
          Another reason behind the national sur-                          were considered as consequences of foreign
     vival debate was Turkey’s fight against terrorist                     manipulations against the Turkish economy.10
     organizations, including FETÖ and the PKK,                            Consequently, the CHP, the Good Party, and
     and the country’s active foreign policy at the                        the HDP frequently claimed on the campaign
     regional and international levels. In the wake                        trail that Turkey was going to suffer an eco-
     of the July 2016 coup attempt, which FETÖ                             nomic meltdown after the March 2019 local
     orchestrated, the AK Party’s cooperation with                         election. As a matter of fact, spokespeople for
     the MHP played a crucial role in the domes-                           those movements described the launch of di-
     tic and international fight against that group.                       rect sale points, known as tanzim stores, which
     Again, during the same period, the MHP of-                            enabled citizens to purchase fruits and vegeta-
     fered its unconditional support to the AK Party                       ble for more reasonable prices, as a reflection
     government’s counterterrorism operations                              of the alleged economic crisis.
     against PKK targets in Northern Syria. As such,
     the leaders of both parties stressed repeatedly
     that the partnership between the AK Party and                         WHAT THE MARCH 2019
     the MHP was vital to the continuation of the                          ELECTION MEANS TO
     fight against terrorist organizations. The HDP’s                      POLITICAL PARTIES
     references to a united force against the People’s
                                                                           The March 31 municipal election is critically
     Alliance added another dimension to the na-
                                                                           important to the AK Party and the MHP. In
     tional survival debate between the two blocs,
                                                                           the July 2016 coup attempt’s wake, the coop-
     even though the party refrained from formally
                                                                           eration between the two political parties op-
     joining the Nation Alliance. In 2015, when the
                                                                           erated on several levels. First of all, the MHP
     PKK unilaterally ended the ceasefire and re-
                                                                           offered its unconditional support to the AK
     sumed violence, HDP-controlled municipali-
                                                                           Party government when it came to the dismiss-
     ties had followed suit by declaring autonomy
                                                                           al of FETÖ and PKK operatives from public
     and financing PKK operations. Moreover, the
                                                                           institutions under the State of Emergency, and
     HDP supported the YPG presence in Northern
                                                                           domestic and cross-border military operations
     Syria, which made the local election race be-
                                                                           against terrorist groups. Among other things,
     tween the People’s Alliance and the Nation Alli-
     ance crucial to Turkey’s fight against terrorism.
                                                                           10. “AK Parti Genel Başkan Yardımcısı Cevdet Yılmaz: “Ekonomik
                                                                           Saldırı 15 Temmuz’un Devamı” [AK Party Deputy Chairman Cevdet
     9. Burhanettin Duran, “31 Mart Sadece Yerel Seçim mi?” [Is March 31   Yılmaz: The Economic Assault Is a Continuation of July 15], Kriter, No:
     Just a Municipal Election?], Kriter, No: 33, (March 2019).            28, (October 2018).

12                                                                                                                              s e ta v. o rg
THE MARCH 31 LOCAL ELECTIONS IN TURKEY

the MHP’s support resulted in the Euphrates                                     The March 2019 election will be the
Shield and Olive Branch Operations against                                third campaign for the People’s Alliance
PKK/YPG militants in northern Syria. In                                   (including the 2017 constitutional referen-
other words, the MHP’s political support to                               dum). This motivates the CHP-Good Party-
the AK Party government played an important                               HDP bloc to do everything in its power to
role in the latter’s efforts to improve domestic                          reduce the number of municipalities con-
and border security.                                                      trolled by the AK Party or the MHP, and to
     Therefore, both political parties main-                              win as many new districts as possible. There-
tained that the March 2019 municipal elec-                                fore, those three parties built their platform
tion would have an impact on the course of                                around sheer opposition to the People’s Alli-
Turkey’s counterterrorism efforts. Continued                              ance rather than a certain ideology or set of
cooperation between the AK Party and the                                  values. Their eagerness to end the control over
MHP, both sides believed, was key to domes-                               metropolitan districts, notably Ankara and
tic political stability and, by extension, cross-                         Istanbul, of the AK Party and MHP made it
border military operations against terrorist                              possible for the CHP, the Good Party, and
groups. They posited that the Nation Alliance                             the HDP to ignore their vast ideological dif-
could jeopardize Turkey’s ongoing fight against                           ferences. In other words, the opposition bloc,
the PKK and FETÖ because that alliance’s                                  which failed to defeat the People’s Alliance in
participants lacked a coherent strategy to com-                           the presidential and parliamentary elections
bat those organizations effectively.                                      last year, seek to reverse the trend by winning
     The AK Party and the MHP saw their                                   the local election.12
cooperation in the March 2019 municipal                                         The March 2019 election turned into
election as a crucial step towards ensuring                               a fight for survival in the eyes of the CHP-
domestic stability until the 2023 presidential                            Good Party-HDP bloc because intraparty
election and addressing structural problems.                              crises affecting the CHP and the Good Party
Their partnership, which was born out of the                              would deepen if they suffer yet another de-
July 2016 coup attempt, played a crucial role                             feat in this election. As a matter of fact, the
in ending a long-standing crisis of Turkey’s                              CHP and the Good Party leaders faced im-
political system (with the April 2017 consti-                             mense pressure from their respective bases
tutional referendum) and in implementing the                              and certain intraparty opposition groups as
new system after the June 2018 presidential                               they engaged in alliance negotiations. For
and parliamentary elections.11 By the same                                example, many CHP heavyweights, includ-
token, both movements maintain that their                                 ing Deniz Baykal, Hurşit Güneş, and Ilhan
continued partnership is key to ensuring the                              Cihaner warned that working with the Good
compatibility of Turkey’s state apparatus with                            Party would weaken the CHP in municipal
the new political system after the March 2019                             races.13 The CHP leadership ignored those
municipal election.
                                                                          12. Abdulkadir Selvi, “CHP-İYİ Parti ittifakı nereye gidiyor?” [The Future
                                                                          of the CHP-Good Party Alliance], Hürriyet, December 12, 2018.
11. Fahrettin Altun, “Laying the Cornerstone for a New Turkey: The June   13. Hazal Duran, “CHP Nereye Koşuyor?” [CHP: Quo Vadis?], Sabah
24 Elections”, Insight Turkey, Vol: 20, No: 3, (2018).                    Perspektif, February 2, 2019.

s e ta v. o rg                                                                                                                                         13
ANALYSIS

     critics and moved on with partnership talks.                        municipal election. After last year’s presi-
     Yet, the eventual agreement crippled both                           dential and parliamentary elections, a large
     movements in some provinces. Even after the                         number of CHP delegates signed a petition
     scope of the partnership became clear, the                          to demand leadership change and an emer-
     debate within both movements became more                            gency congress. Those opponents eventually
     and more heated. Consequently, sitting may-                         suspended their campaign to avoid further
     ors and party officials serving at various levels                   damage to the party before the municipal
     of the CHP and the Good Party ended up                              election. For those reasons, a poor perfor-
     submitting their resignations. As such, there                       mance by the CHP and the Good Party
     is plenty of unhappiness and dissatisfaction                        in March 2019 could revive the intraparty
     among loyal supporters and intraparty op-                           opposition challenging the CHP’s current
     position groups, even though the the CHP                            leadership.
     and the Good Party concluded a partnership                               For the Good Party, in turn, the munic-
     agreement. An additional dimension of that                          ipal election represents a key factor for the
     crisis related to power struggles among vari-                       future. The nationalist contingent within the
     ous intraparty groups over the selection of                         movement was unhappy with the leadership’s
     endorsed candidates on the local level.14                           decision to join forces with the CHP and the
                                                                         Felicity Party in the June 2018 parliamentary
      The AK Party and the MHP                                           elections. Their disapproval fueled a heated
 maintained that the March 2019                                          post-election debate among the Good Party
municipal elec­tion would have an                                        ranks, as deepening polarization resulted in
                                                                         Chairwoman Meral Akşener announcing her
impact on the course of Turkey’s
                                                                         resignation. Her decision to step down led to
       counterterrorism efforts.
                                                                         the resignation of additional heavyweights
                                                                         including Yusuf Halaçoğlu, Özcan Yeniçeri,
          In light of the abovementioned issues,                         and Nevzat Bor. Although Akşener proceeded
     both the CHP and the Good Party leader-                             to reverse her decision and returned to the
     ship will possibly encounter intraparty op-                         party’s leadership, the wave of resignation
     position groups after the March 2019 mu-                            continued in the lead-up to the March 2019
     nicipal election. Both movements suffered                           municipal election as well. Those resignations
     from a serious crisis of leadership after a                         decreased the number of parliamentary seats
     poor performance in the June 2018 elec-                             that the Good Party controlled from 44 to
     tions, as certain groups within those parties                       39. Bearing in mind those developments, the
     held their leaders responsible for the failure.                     Good Party leadership’s election strategy will
     Therefore, a much stronger intraparty op-                           likely come under criticism – depending on
     position movement could emerge especially                           the election results.15
     among the CHP ranks after the March 2019
     14. Burhanettin Duran, “Kılıçdaroğlu’nun Manevraları ve CHP’nin
     Serencamı” [Kılıçdaroğlu’s Maneuvers and CHP’s Situation], Sabah,   15. Nebi Miş, “2019’da Siyaseti Ne Bekliyor?” [What Lies Ahead for
     February 12, 2019.                                                  Politics in 2019?], Türkiye, January 3, 2019.

14                                                                                                                         s e ta v. o rg
THE MARCH 31 LOCAL ELECTIONS IN TURKEY

VISIONS FOR LOCAL                                                           ister. Knowing that political parties that won
                                                                            mayoral elections in Istanbul had historically
GOVERNMENT:                                                                 played a prominent role in national politics,
FROM PAST TO PRESENT                                                        the mainstream media and other allies of the
The Justice and Development                                                 establishment cared deeply about the 1994
Party (AK Party)                                                            mayoral race.
Although the AK Party was established in                                          At the time, Erdoğan managed to over-
2001 and therefore did not formally become                                  come the resistance against himself and his par-
part of local government for another three                                  ty by adopting a new communication strategy.
years, the 1994 municipal election was key to                               His unique brand of political communication,
understanding the movement’s vision for local                               which helped him to win the 1994 election,
government. March 27, 1994 was a historic                                   remained intact after the AK Party’s establish-
day in Turkey’s political history. On that day,                             ment. As a mayoral candidate, Erdoğan’s first
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who would proceed to                                  step was to reach out to the recently urbanized
shape the country’s future, won the mayoral                                 middle and working classes - a demographic
race in Istanbul. The future president’s victory                            that no other party had penetrated ever be-
in Istanbul resulted in much more than the                                  fore.17 He communicated in person with
municipality of Turkey’s largest city changing                              various social groups, including low-income
hands.16 At the same time, the 1994 election                                residents who had recently moved to the city,
                                                                            and implemented an unprecedented campaign
ushered in a new era, during which Turkish
                                                                            strategy. Erdoğan distinguished himself from
politics and the idea of local government un-
                                                                            the rest of the mayoral candidates by walking
derwent major changes. During his tenure as
                                                                            into people’s homes, telling them about his
the mayor of Istanbul, Erdoğan developed a
                                                                            plans, and promising to deliver public servic-
political style and legacy that became driving
                                                                            es.18 At the same time, he communicated with
forces behind the AK Party’s establishment.
                                                                            largely ignored parts of Turkish society by fo-
Two of those factors were particularly impor-
                                                                            cusing on not just districts promising politi-
tant: Erdoğan’s unique style of political com-
                                                                            cal support but also social groups that did not
munication on the campaign trail, and his ap-
                                                                            share his own worldview.
proach to local government in office and the
                                                                                  Ahead of the 1994 municipal election,
notion of project-centered local government.
                                                                            Erdoğan built a strong organization with ex-
     As Erdoğan ran for office, mainstream
                                                                            tensive knowledge of local governments. He
media outlets, which opposed him at the
                                                                            launched training programs to make his team
time, urged residents to oppose him by say-
                                                                            better equipped to deliver key public services
ing that the mayoral race was about selecting
                                                                            including physical infrastructure, environ-
not just the next mayor of a megapolis with
10 million residents but also the most influ-                               17. Metin Heper, “Islam, Conservatism, and Democracy in Turkey:
ential Turkish politician after the prime min-                              Comparing Turgut Özal and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan”, Insight Turkey, Vol:
                                                                            15, No: 2 (2013), pp. 141-156.
16. Yael Navaro-Yashin, Faces of the State: Secularism and Public Life in   18. “Tayyip Erdoğan’ın 75 Bin Kişilik Seçim Ordusu” [Erdoğan’s Election
Turkey, (Princeton University Press, New Jersey: 2002), p. 22.              Team Consisting of 75 Thousand People], Milliyet, February 15, 1994.

s e ta v. o rg                                                                                                                                        15
ANALYSIS

     mental protection, water management, and           quired a certain level of proficiency. Erdoğan
     transportation as well as to familiarize them      placed special emphasis on all employees of
     with the relevant body of law. That Erdoğan’s      the metropolitan municipality and county-
     party formed special boards and teams to           level local governments learned about urban
     keep track of each individual polling station      planning, regional planning, infrastructure
     amounted to a new kind of effort. Steps by the     engineering, the history of local government,
     Women’s Branch, which played an active role        aesthetics, history of art, and environmental
     in Erdoğan’s mayoral campaign and proceeded        protection. The group of people that worked
     to be an important part of the AK Party’s orga-    for Istanbul’s various municipalities at the time
     nization, gave him a special advantage. Female     proceeded to take responsibility for the nation’s
     volunteers were key to conveying Erdoğan’s         government after the 2002 general election.
     messages to every single household. To be                Erdoğan’s goal was to replace the top-
     clear, Erdoğan’s decision to involve women         down approach to local government - which
     more deeply in his mayoral campaign was            meant that the municipality would act unilat-
     crucial to women playing a more prominent          erally and residents were expected to be grate-
     role in Turkish politics. On the campaign trail,   ful for whatever public services they received
     women became part of discussions on urban          - with a new system, under which the local
     and national problems and successfully carved      administration would be required to meet
     out a political space for themselves to defend     public demands. To implement that plan, he
     their rights and voice their demands.              launched White Desk (Beyaz Masa in Turk-
           Once in office, Erdoğan implemented          ish), a hotline that residents could use to voice
     his vision for local government and project-       their demands or provide feedback on existing
     centered administration, which the AK Party        services. By taking that step, Erdoğan promot-
     adopted with improvements in the following         ed communication between the municipality
     years. After taking over as mayor, the future      and local residents through new channels. He
     president shared Istanbul’s problems, along        also commissioned opinion polls in various
     with his plan and projects to address those is-    districts every week to identify pressing prob-
     sues, with the public. Erdoğan encountered         lems, popular demands, and expectations, and
     similar problems - this time, at the national      the level of happiness among voters - which
     level - when his AK Party came to power in         made it possible for the solution-oriented ap-
     2002. He proceeded to build on his experience      proach to local government to work.
     as mayor to implement the AK Party’s action-             Since the 1980s, developed nations
     and public service-centered political strategy.    around the world have been trying to reform
           To accomplish his goals as mayor of Is-      public administration. Their reform programs
     tanbul, Erdoğan desperately needed a group         promoted small government, the reduction
     of senior executives who would be responsible      of red tape, activity, and efficiency. Govern-
     for solving problems. At the time, he turned to    ments and public institutions adopted a new
     experts and academics for help on key issues,      approach, whereby they focused on output
     like infrastructure and transportation, that re-   (rather than input and the administrative pro-

16                                                                                           s e ta v. o rg
THE MARCH 31 LOCAL ELECTIONS IN TURKEY

cess), flexible organization, offering services                         geared towards addressing problems of scale,
based on popular demands and expectations,                              financial resources, and authority, from which
and small-scale, horizontally organized public                          municipalities suffered.
institutions. In doing so, they relied on mar-                                In addition to implementing local govern-
ket-like structures to manage and provide pub-                          ment reforms, the AK Party took major steps
lic services. They also took private sector prac-                       to improve the physical infrastructure of cities
tices, such as human resources management,                              across Turkey. On the movement’s watch, the
strategic planning, performance management,                             country made significant progress on “social
and total quality management, and incorpo-                              local government,” social services, and im-
rated them into the public administration.                              proving the quality of public services. At the
New principles, including reliance on demo-                             same time, the national government made ad-
cratic governance, horizontal cooperation, en-                          ditional resources available to municipalities
gagement, interaction, negotiation, and joint                           to promote local investments. Likewise, sig-
development, became more popular in the                                 nificant progress was made on infrastructure,
public sector.19 Finally, governments adopted                           housing construction, transportation projects,
a series of principles to hold public officials                         and social assistance.20
responsible for their performance and output.                                 The AK Party’s approach to local admin-
      Provided that Turkey was going through                            istration was built on Erdoğan’s original recipe
a period of political crisis in the 1990s, how-                         for the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality in
ever, the country missed out on that global re-                         1994. In this regard, the movement’s transfor-
form wave. Not only the central government                              mation of local government in Turkey dates
but also local governments failed to transform                          back to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s successful
themselves and implement key reforms. After                             mayoral campaign. In other words, Erdoğan’s
coming to power in 2002, the AK Party at-                               approach to local government as the mayor
tempted to implement some of those overdue                              of Istanbul remained intact under successive
reforms at the national and municipal levels.                           AK Party governments. The AK Party’s vision
Under the AK Party, Turkey adopted four                                 for local government, which borrowed heav-
major changes related to local government                               ily from Erdoğan’s brand of local administra-
reform. The country adopted the Metropoli-                              tion, became institutionalized when the party
tan Municipality Law in 2004 and the Law                                was established in 2001 and contested its first
on Provincial Special Administrations and the                           municipal election three years later. Having
Municipal Law in 2005. Seven years later, the                           formed a single-party government after run-
AK Party oversaw the adoption of a new law                              ning a campaign stressing justice and progress
that increased the number of metropolitan                               in 2002, the party entered the 2004 local elec-
municipalities and expanded the geographical                            tion with an emphasis on local development.
jurisdiction of service providers under metro-                          At the same time, the AK Party’s election cam-
politan administrations. Those reforms were                             paign highlighted the importance of human-
19. Lawrence Susskind and Jeffrey Cruikshank, Breaking the Impasse:     20. Nebi Miş, “AK Parti Belediyeciliği: Gelenek, Uygulama ve Beklentiler”
Consensual Approaches to Resolving Public Disputes, (Basic Books, New   [The AK Party’s Approach to Local Government: Tradition, Practice and
York: 1987).                                                            Expectations], Kriter, No: 29, (November 2018).

s e ta v. o rg                                                                                                                                      17
ANALYSIS

     centered social local government.21 A dynamic                               For the first time ever, the movement issued
     campaign was designed to communicate di-                                    an election manifesto, which was reserved for
     rectly with voters and to ensure that the party                             national elections until then, and pledged
     could engage in healthy and sustainable com-                                to promote horizontal architecture and eco-
     munication with its target audience.22 In 2004,                             friendly cities. The AK Party’s vision for local
     the AK Party won 1,750 municipal races.23 In                                government was also influenced by calls to
     addition to offering solutions to structural                                reduce red tape and promote more partici-
     problems related to infrastructure, transpor-                               pation and transparency since the 1990s. In
     tation, and the environment, the movement                                   this regard, urban councils were established
     built its vision for local government with new                              in 2006 to facilitate residents’ direct partici-
     themes in future election cycles.                                           pation in municipal affairs. Moreover, the
                                                                                 movement created new mechanisms to pro-
         Although the AK Party was                                               mote transparency in line with global practic-
       established in 2001, the 1994                                             es in local government. Finally, the AK Party
      municipal election was key to                                              pledged to attach importance to creating al-
     understanding the movement’s                                                ternative participation mechanisms.
                                                                                      In 2019, the AK Party’s vision for lo-
        vision for local government.
                                                                                 cal government was broadly advertised in its
                                                                                 election manifesto; this included elements
           In the 2009 municipal election, the AK                                such as Urban Planning, Infrastructure and
     Party stressed the importance of “branding”                                 Transportation, Urban Transformation,
     for urban government. The election campaign                                 Smart Cities, Eco-Friendly Cities, Social Lo-
     was heavily influenced by national politics                                 cal Government, Horizontal Urbanization,
     - which meant that all political parties had                                Government with the People, Savings and
     to put their respective visions for local gov-                              Transparency, and Value-Generating Cit-
     ernment and campaign promises on the back                                   ies. The manifesto showed that the AK Party
     burner. Five years later, when the next munic-                              took into account the most recent trends in
     ipal election took place, the AK Party built on                             urban management and integrated those de-
     the discourse of civilization to stress human-                              velopments into its core values in local gov-
     ity, democracy, and the city in its campaign.24                             ernment.25 At the same time, the movement
                                                                                 unveiled eco-friendly projects accompanied
     21. “Siyasiler ve Başkan Adaylarının Seçim Çalışmaları” [Campaign Efforts
                                                                                 by a campaign slogan - “The Spirit of ’94.”
     by Politicians and Mayoral Candidates], Hürriyet, March 22, 2004.           Other plans, such as livable cities, protecting
     22. “AK Parti 28 Mart 2004 Yerel Seçim Klavuzu” [The AK Party’s
     March 28, 2004 Municipal Election Guide], http://www.akparti.org.tr/
                                                                                 the environment, promoting architecture,
     media/272261/2004-yerel-secim-klavuzu.pdf, (Accessed: March 5, 2019),       and aesthetics, were implemented before the
     23. Ali Çarkoğlu, “One Down, Two More to Go: Electoral Trends in the
     Aftermath of the March 2014 Municipality Elections”, Insight Turkey,
                                                                                 municipal election with the National Gar-
     Cilt: 16, Sayı: 2, (2014).                                                  dens projects.
     24. “Büyük Medeniyet Yolunda İnsan, Demokrasi ve Şehir” [People,
     Democracy and the City on the Road to Great Civilization], March 30,
     2014 Election Manifesto, http://www.akparti.org.tr/media/272121/30-         25. Hazal Duran, “AK Parti’nin Yerel Seçim Stratejisi” [The AK Party’s
     mart-2014-yerel-secim-beyannamesi.pdf, (Accessed: March 5, 2019).           Local Election Strategy], Sabah Perspektif, November 17, 2018.

18                                                                                                                                    s e ta v. o rg
THE MARCH 31 LOCAL ELECTIONS IN TURKEY

   TABLE 2. THE RESULTS OF LOCAL ELECTIONS (PROVINCIAL COUNCILOR RESULTS, 2004-2014)

 Local                                                                           DEHAP/DTP                   Voter
                                AK Party     CHP          MHP
 Elections                                                                       /BDP/HDP                    Turnout

                 Voting Rate    41.7%        18.2%        10.5%                  -
 2004 Local
                                                                                                             76.25%
 Elections
                 Total Voters   13,447,287   5,882,810    3,372,249              -

 2009 Local      Voting Rate    38.4%        23.1%        16%                    5.7%
 Elections                                                                                                   85.19%
                 Total Voters   15,353,553   9,229,936    6,386,279              2,277,777

 2014 Local      Voting Rate    43.39%       25.6%        17.6%                  6.81%
 Elections                                                                                                   89.19%
                 Total Voters   19,469,840   11,493,758   7,907,067              2,845,276

      Unlike in previous years, the AK Party relied       The Republican People’s Party
heavily on social media in its 2019 municipal             (CHP)
election campaign. President Erdoğan described            The Republican People’s Party (CHP) has
the impact of social media as follows: “Each time         been active longer than most political parties
we post a message on Twitter is like organizing           in Turkey’s political history. It is possible to
several rallies at Yenikapı.” Indeed, social media        analyze the movement’s vision for local gov-
was at the heart of the AK Party’s 2019 campaign          ernment by looking at its track record. After
and a digital network was established to facilitate       Turkey’s transition to multiparty democracy,
quicker communication among campaign offi-                the CHP won 40 municipal races around the
cials. Finally, the intraparty voting on potential        country in the 1950 local election - compared
candidates took place online.                             to 560 victories by its rival, the Democratic
      The AK Party’s previous electoral suc-              Party.26 In later years, the movement con-
cesses may shed light upon the results of the             trolled municipalities in many cities includ-
March 31 local elections. In the 2004 local               ing Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir.27
elections, the party came in first and got 41.7                The CHP’s performance in metropoli-
percent of the votes. When it came to 2009,               tan areas provides valuable insights into its
the party relatively decreased voting rates to            vision for local government. The movement
38.4 percent. According to the official results
of the 2014 local elections, the AK Party won             26. “Seçimi DP Ezici Bir Çoğunlukla Kazandı” [DP Wins the Election by
by a landslide and increased its votes to 43.39           a Landslide], Milliyet, October 16, 1950.
                                                          27. CHP did not contest the 1955 municipal election. It contested
percent. As the winner of the all three previous          all later elections before being shut down after the September 12,
local elections, the party won the highest num-           1980 coup d’état. In 1981-1992, the party’s elite continued their
                                                          political activities as part of the Social Democracy Party (SODEP)
ber of municipalities throughout the country.             and the SHP.

s e ta v. o rg                                                                                                                    19
ANALYSIS

     was in charge of Istanbul in 1969-1980 and                                 Party government. Especially from 2007 on-
     1989-1994 (as the Social Democratic Peo-                                   wards, the laicity debate redefined the CHP’s
     ple’s Party), yet could not address the city’s                             vision for local government. By extension, the
     long-standing structural problems because                                  movement’s local election campaigns were
     it lacked an active management approach.28                                 overshadowed by the national debate on la-
     At the same time, the CHP’s image was tar-                                 icism and Kemalism. Even though the CHP
     nished by widespread corruption and brib-                                  mentioned a range of issues, including urban
     ery. A bribery scandal at Istanbul’s Water and                             aesthetics, the right to housing, infrastruc-
     Sewage Administration (ISKI), among other                                  ture, the environment, democracy, and par-
     things, formed the basis of poor public opin-                              ticipation, in its election manifestos, its main
     ion about the party’s local government perfor-                             arguments were always related to laicism
     mance.29 Again, the CHP’s failure to address                               and Kemalism. Therefore, CHP politicians
     basic issues with the city’s water supply and                              weighed in heavily on national issues.
     garbage collection strengthened the view that                                   Yet the 2009 municipal election was a
     it was generally unsuccessful when it came to                              turning point for the CHP. Realizing that
     local government.                                                          building its entire platform around laicism
          Another important factor that influ-                                  was costing it votes, the movement took an
     enced the CHP’s vision for local government                                unexpected step in 2009. Then-CHP Chair-
     was that the movement acted in line with the                               man Deniz Baykal personally admitted a
     principle of “social democratic local govern-                              group of women wearing the burqa into
     ment” since the 1970s. This approach, which                                party membership in an attempt to reach out
     was born during Bülent Ecevit’s tenure as                                  to conservatives.31 Yet that move was not re-
     prime minister, promised to strike a healthy                               ceived well.
     balance between urban areas and the country-                                    The CHP’s 2014 local election campaign,
     side.30 Yet, the movement’s failure to account                             in turn, introduced a new framework with an
     for globalization and other international dy-                              emphasis on wealth, unity, and liberty. The
     namics caused it to manage major projects                                  party’s election campaign and rhetoric were
     like Köykent with a narrow perspective.                                    heavily influenced by the Gezi Park revolts.32
          In the 2000s, the CHP’s approach to                                   In addition to nominating many public fig-
     local government came under more visible                                   ures who rose to prominence during the up-
     ideological influences. In this regard, the                                rising, the CHP attempted to position itself
     movement built its local election campaigns                                as the political representative of that move-
     around national issues and viewed mayoral                                  ment.33 The movement’s election manifesto
     races as an instrument to undermine the AK
                                                                                31. Nebi Miş, “CHP’nin HDP’lileşme Serüveni” [The Tale of CHP’s
     28. Nebi Miş, “CHP’nin Yerel Yönetim Geleneği” [The CHP’s Tradition        HDP-ization], Kriter, No: 16, (September 2017)
     of Local Government], Türkiye, 8 November 2018.                            32. Cengiz Erişen, Political Behavior and the Emotional Citizen:
     29. Nebi Miş and Abdullah Eren, “Siyasal Partilerin Yerel Vizyonu:         Participation and Reaction in Turkey, (Palgrave Macmillan, London:
     İstanbul Seçimleri” [The Local Vision of Political Parties: The Istanbul   2018).
     Election], SETA Analiz, No: 91, (March 2014).                              33. Mustafa Altunoğlu and Doğan Eşkinat, “30 Mart’a Doğru
     30. “Ali Nejat Ölçen ile Söyleşi: Halk Sektörü I” [An Interview with Ali   Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi” [CHP towards March 30], SETA Analiz,
     Nejat Ölçen: Public Sector I], Aydınlanma 1923, No: 37.                    No:90, (March 2014).

20                                                                                                                                s e ta v. o rg
THE MARCH 31 LOCAL ELECTIONS IN TURKEY

           TABLE 3. THE NUMBER OF MUNICIPALITIES WON BY POLITICAL PARTIES (2004-2014)

 Local Elections                                          AK Party               CHP               MHP                     DEHAP/DTP/BDP/HDP

 2004 Local Elections                                     1,762                  469               247                     -

 2009 Local Elections                                     1,452                  506               484                     97

 2014 Local Elections**                                   818                    232               169                     99

** The reason for the significant decrease of the numbers of municipalities won by the parties in the 2014 local election is the legal change to the form
of local administrative organization in 2012.

concentrated on making urban life easier and                                   The Nationalist Movement Party
better, preserving the architectural, historical,                              (MHP)
and cultural textures of urban areas, improv-                                  The MHP has been a key player in Turkish
ing physical infrastructure, and promoting                                     politics since its establishment in 1969. The
popular participation and transparency in lo-                                  movement played crucial roles in national and
cal government.                                                                local politics. It is possible to claim that the
      Ahead of the 2019 municipal election,                                    MHP’s approach to national politics shaped its
the CHP issued a 12-point statement to out-                                    vision for local government. The party’s first
line its vision for local government: tolerant                                 major success was to win 50 municipal races in
cities and respect for the people, just distribu-                              the 1977 election. It was particularly success-
tion of wealth, accountability, transparency,                                  ful in Adıyaman, Muş, and Konya.
combatting poverty, production and job cre-                                         The September 1980 coup d’état and
ation, innovation and smart cities, social jus-                                military interventions in civilian politics,
tice, support for culture and the arts, and en-                                however, took a heavy toll on the MHP. A
vironmental protection. The movement also                                      1981 law banned all political activities by the
used campaign slogans that promised peace                                      movement’s founder, Alparslan Türkeş, and
and solutions to pressing problems.                                            the MHP had to contest the 1989 munici-
      The CHP has never achieved its goals                                     pal election as the Nationalist Labor Party. In
in local elections. In 2004, it got only 18.2                                  1992, the Turkish Parliament passed a new
percent of the votes and won 469 municipali-                                   law permitting the reestablishment of politi-
ties. Its voting rates slightly increased in the                               cal parties that were banned after the 1980
2009 local elections and the CHP reached                                       coup. Consequently, the MHP was born
23.1 percent of the votes. When it came to                                     again in 1993 and enjoyed vast popular sup-
the 2014 local elections, the party got 25.2                                   port in local elections especially against the
percent of the votes but still came in second                                  backdrop of threats against Turkey’s national
after the AK Party. Even if the main target of                                 security. For example, the movement per-
the CHP was winning against the AK Party, it                                   formed better than average in the Mediter-
could not succeed.                                                             ranean and Aegean regions in the 1994 local

s e ta v. o rg                                                                                                                                              21
ANALYSIS

     election, which took place amid an uptick in                                   The MHP’s vision document for the 2019
     the PKK’s terrorist attacks.34                                           municipal election, in turn, highlighted the im-
           In 1999, the MHP achieved an unprec-                               portance of delivering public services quickly,
     edented success by winning 499 municipali-                               affordably and justly, respecting the environ-
     ties. The movement’s success was largely due                             ment and promoting architectural aesthetics,
     to a heightened sense of nationalism nation-                             and building eco-friendly social spaces. The
     ally and locally. At the time and in later elec-                         document called for the protection of social
     tion cycles, the MHP’s approach to local gov-                            and historical texture as well as the effective use
     ernment focused on productivity and direct                               of technology and innovation at the municipal
     contact with the constituents. The movement                              level on the basis of nationalism, hard work, jus-
     argued that an approach to local government,                             tice, honesty, modernity, development, partici-
     which was unique to the Nationalist Move-                                pation, competition, and transparency.
     ment, was crucial for the country, and called                                  The previous local election results of the
     on its supporters to develop a holistic ap-                              MHP show that the party has gradually in-
     proach to urban administration and to focus                              creased its voting rates. While the party got
     on all social, physical, and cultural areas.35                           10.5 percent of the votes in 2004, its voting
     Chairman Devlet Bahçeli himself stressed                                 rate increased to 16 percent in the 2009 local
     that the MHP was trying to reconcile the                                 elections. When it came to the 2014 local elec-
     global and the local with an emphasis on na-                             tions, the MHP got 17.6 percent of total votes
     tionalism.36                                                             and won the elections in 169 municipalities
           The MHP’s popularity at the local level                            throughout the country. As well as increasing
     decreased in the 2000s, yet did not end com-                             voting rates and the number of municipalities,
     pletely. In 2009, which marked the movement’s                            the MHP also gradually broadened its elec-
     40th anniversary, the MHP won ten provinces                              toral base.
     including Manisa, Balıkesir, Uşak, Osmaniye,
     Gümüşhane, Kastamonu, Karabük, Bartın,                                   The Peoples’ Democratic Party
     and Isparta.37 Five years later, it succeded in                          (HDP)
     mayoral races for Adana, Osmaniyet, Manisa,                              Kurdish nationalist political parties have been
     Mersin, Isparta, Bartın, Karabük, and Kars.                              active in Turkish politics since the 1990s. Al-
                                                                              most all of those parties pledged to strengthen
     34. Hatem Ete, Hamza Taşdelen, Sami Orçun Ersay, Ülkücülükten
     Tepkisel Milliyetçiliğe: MHP’nin İdeolojisi ve Seçmen Eğilimleri [From   local governments and called for the transfer of
     Idealism to Reactionary Nationalism: MHP’s Ideology and Voter
     Inclinations], (SETA Rapor, Istanbul: 2014).                             the central government’s powers to municipal-
     35. “Üretken Belediyecilik: Bütüncül Yaklaşım-Birlikte Yönetim”          ities. The HDP, which made those points in its
     [Productive Local Government: Holistic Approach-Governing Together],
     Nationalist Movement Party Department of Local Government,               founding declaration and election manifestos,
     Publication No: 9, https://www.mhp.org.tr/usr_img/mhpweb/kitaplar/       was no exception.
     uretken_belediyecilik_web.pdf, (Accessed: March 5, 2019).
     36. Devlet Bahçeli, “21. Yüzyıl ve 2023 Türkiye Vizyonu” [The 21st             The HDP’s approach to local government
     Century and Turkey’s Vision for 2023], https://www.mhp.org.tr/           was in line with the Peace and Democracy Par-
     usr_img/_mhp2007/kitaplar/21yy2023turkiyevizyonu.pdf, (Accessed:
     March 5, 2019),                                                          ty (BDP), its predecessor, and reflected the idea
     37. Hamit Emrah Beriş, “31 Mart’a Doğru Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi”      of democratic autonomy. Both political parties
     [MHP Towards March 30], SETA Analiz, No: 84, (February 2014).

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