Municipal elections in Turkey: what did happen there

By Sumeyye Hancer

On March 31, 2019, Turkey held its municipal elections. According to the BBC, 57 million people were registered and the turnout displayed an outstanding 85%. After 25 years of seat in Ankara, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP), known as the Justice and Development Party, has lost its seat in the capital city as well as in Istanbul metropolis and other municipalities. The recession announced last March appears to have played a decisive role against the ruling party.

The event took a tragic turn as clashes occurred and four people died in south and east Turkey. Dozens were also reported injured in the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir. In Istanbul, one person was stabbed in Kadıköy district as reported by The Guardian.

In the European Union, the German magazine Der Spiegel announced the “Ende eines Mythos” (“The End of a Myth”, in English). In France, Le Monde spoke of “un revers cinglant” (“A scathing reverse”). In Spain, El País mentioned “un duro revés” (“a harsh reverse”) and the loss of the “islamistas turcos” (“Turkish islamists”).

Indeed, the results seem to showcase patterns of a new momentum vis-à-vis the 2023 national elections, albeit the outcomes have been contested by the ruling party which at first denounced “invalid votes and irregularities in most of the 12,158 polling stations in Ankara”, then “irregularities” and “organised crime”. The result of the election in Istanbul was appealed as announced by Ali İhsan Yavuz, the deputy chairman of AKP. However, on April 9th The Guardian announced that the partial recount process confirmed the lead of the CHP (Republican People’s Party) candidate, Ekrem İmamoğlu.

Today, half of the citizens support Erdogan and the other half despises him for polarising the country, according to the analysis by Mark Lowen, BBC Turkey correspondent, in article published on April 1st entitled “Turkey local elections: Setback for Erdogan in big cities”.

How do I approach the event as a Euroculture student?

As a dual national French-Turkish, I somehow happened to have followed the Turkish local elections and wanted to write about it. What Euroculture has taught me in relation to the study of the European Union is that one can approach an event or a situation from different perspectives. One can limit the EU to a political entity as well as understanding it as a complex entity through the study of its historical, social and cultural processes; and one can apply the same approach to any other country in order to understand its current political and social tensions, for instance.

Through European lenses, Turkey is the “Other” that the EU has built unity upon in times of war. It is also the islamist Erdoğan that opposes Atatürk. In a nutshell, one has our ideals about what Turkey should be as opposed to what it has been and currently is.

Besides, one can observe the virtue of democracy, the power of elections and how a nation can be the bearer of its future through the polls. Local elections may be decisive, the current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan once was Istanbul mayor, and later became president.

The analysis of Lowen raised my interest to the utmost. His statement that “Swathes of Turkey still adore Mr. Erdogan, but the half of the country that detests its polarising president” is one fact among others which encompasses all these historical, social, political and cultural realities I have mentioned earlier and which can be useful for those who want to know more about Turkey and are looking for a starting point: how did Turkey shift from an Ottoman empire to a Republic? On what basis have the CHP and the AKP built their ideologies? Who are the Turkish citizens? Eventually, what does a “polarising” Erdogan mean? Here, one can relate to the Kurdish Question in Turkey. For the latter point, one friend put forward that I had read the work of Mesut Yeğen on “The Kurdish Question in Turkish State Discourse”, published by Sage Publications. I have read it and enjoyed it as it has changed my perspective with my way of approaching current debates on the matter!

Featured picture: Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

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