A few comments on the Turkish election results

March 31, 2009
On March 29, nationwide elections were held in Turkey for various offices in provincial, municipal, and neighborhood government. I'm sure many of you have already seen the headlines regarding the election results, so I'll jump quickly to a few points that interested me.
  • This was the first time since the AK Party was founded in 2002 that the party has lost votes from one election to the next. In the last local elections, held in 2004, the AK Party received 41.7% of the vote for city mayors. In the last parliamentary elections in 2007, the AK Party won 47% of the vote. This year, the party won a little less than 39% of the vote--a disappointment, but still more than the 34% than the party one the first time it picked up a parliamentary majority in 2002.
  • The Republican People's Party (CHP in Turkish) has a little bit to feel good about. First of all, there had been a lot of speculation in Turkey that the AK Party would win 50% of the vote, so the CHP must certainly be happy that the AK Party's total was so much lower. Secondly, the CHP managed to take a couple of municipalities away from the AK Party. One of these, the Istanbul "borough" of Beyoglu, had been under Refah/Fazilet/AK Party control (Refah and Fazilet, which were both closed, were the precursors to AK) since 1994. The other city that the CHP managed to win from AK was the southern city of Antalya, which was less of an accomplishment because the AK Party actually won a slightly larger percentage of the vote in Antalya this year in a losing campaign than it had in 2004, when the CHP and the Demokrat Party split the anti-AK Party vote. This year, the Demokrat Party won less than 1% of the vote in Antalya, which put the municipality back into the hands of the CHP.
  • Supporters of the CHP also seem cheered by mayoral candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's performance (37%, compared to 29% for the CHP in 2004) in a losing effort to AK Party incumbent Kadir Topbaş (44%). This has led some CHP folks to speculate that Kılıçdaroğlu might challenge CHP leader Deniz Baykal for the leadership of the party, or else assume the leadership if Baykal, who turns 71 this year, were to step down before the next parliamentary elections (which must be held before 2012). Baykal, who has run the CHP since 1992, has his own people firmly in place in the party's leadership, so I think there is little or no chance of a change in party leadership until Baykal himself decides it is time. If and when he ever decides that the CHP can survive without his leadership, it is my assumption that he will attempt to hand-pick his replacement.
  • Despite the emergence of a few bright spots on election night, the CHP's percentage of the nationwide mayoral vote (23%) remained pretty much where it was in 2004 and 2007 (24.5% and 22%, respectively).
  •  The Nationalist Action Party (MHP) continues to take votes away from both the AK Party and the CHP. The right-wing nationalist party (which contains both "religious" voters who might otherwise support AK, and "secular" voters who would otherwise prefer the CHP) picked up 16% of the vote. Indeed, it is mainly because of the resurrection of the MHP that the AK Party has experienced a moderate drop off in its vote. After receiving 8% of the vote in 2002, 10% in 2004, and 15% in 2007, the MHP is now in a position to perhaps ambush the CHP in the next set of parliamentary elections and emerge as a magnet for opposition votes. This possibility increases considerably if Deniz Baykal remains CHP leader.  
  • The Democratic Society Party (DTP in Turkish), which is known as a Kurdish party, finished as the fourth-largest party in Turkey, receiving 5.42% of the vote nationally. The DTP held onto the municipality of Diyarbakır, and won majorities in provincial councils in Tunceli, Batman, Siirt, Şırnak, Hakkari, Van and Iğdır [provincial governors in Turkey are appointed by Ankara, rather than elected]. 

Threading the Needle: Campaign posters outside the shop of Hikmet the Tailor in Arnavutköy. 
  • In my neighborhood of Arnavutköy, Terzi Hikmet was unable to stitch together a victory, losing to Sedef Hanim despite an energetic campaign and the support of most of his fellow shopkeepers in the neighborhood.  

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