Turkey's upcoming elections

March 18, 2009
Howard Eissenstat has an interesting piece in Juan Cole's Informed Content re the upcoming nationwide municipal elections in Turkey. In this piece, Eissenstat predicts a big victory for the ruling AK Party, and gives several reasons for backing up his argument.

I agree with Howard--in my opinion, the AK Party might even outdo their mandate of 2007, when the party won nearly 47% of the nationwide vote in parliamentary elections.

One point that I would add to Howard's analysis is the benefit that AK Party municipal candidates will reap from the fact that the AK Party has controlled a solid parliamentary majority in Ankara since 2003.

Indeed, while it might not show up in ideologically-based formulations set up to explain the popularity of the AK Party, it's generally understood in Turkey that if you want your city to receive money from Ankara in order to pay for mass transit, a new university, or infrastructure maintenance, you'd better vote in an AK Party mayor.

Not only does the AK Party have enough seats in parliament to approve spending bills for AK Party-friendly cities, but the government has now been in power long enough to have filled much of the permanent bureaucracy of the country with political supporters. 
Turkish PM Erdogan
In Izmir, where the AK Party is fighting hard to finally capture the mayoralty, Erdogan has given a series of speeches lately where he has emphasized the kind of service that municipal AK Party administration can give.  Universities, schools, roads, metros, and other forms of municipal improvement take place in AK Party controlled cities. For whatever reason, cities that don't elect AK Party mayors have more trouble getting money from Ankara to finance such projects.
This takes place even within municipalities such as Istanbul, where there are a number of "boroughs" which elect their own mayor. In the Istanbul "borough" of Kadikoy, which always votes for the opposition People's Republican Party (CHP in Turkish), there has been a noticeable lack of infrastructure development compared with other areas of the city which have voted in AK Party mayors.
Don't misunderstand me: there's nothing unique about this. The AK Party isn't doing anything that previous governments in Ankara haven't sought to do, and I'm quite certain that the CHP would be doing the same thing if they were in power nationally. For as long as I've lived in Turkey, every party that has been in power has sought to exploit this advantage in municipal elections by directing financing to cities which have supported their mayoral candidates. Needless to say, moreover, this sort of practice is hardly limited to Turkey.

But the difference this time is that the AK Party has had a majority hold on Ankara since 2003--the first time that any party had won a majority in the national parliament since the 1980s. The AK Party is therefore in a much stronger position to make promises and win local elections based upon the assumption of financial support appearing down the road to municipalities which elect their mayoral candidates. Back in the bad old days of minority governments and shaky coalitions, the bully pullpit of Ankara power was not nearly as potent as it is today.
If and when the AK Party wins big at the end of this month, one would therefore be ill-advised to overlook the importance of nationwide incumbency in shaping this victory. 

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