Turkish govt sweeps municipal poll

The dramatic victory of Turkey's ruling pro-Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Sunday's local polls has shown that its success at the last general election was not just the result of dissatisfaction with existing parties.

    Turks gave the AKP just over 42% of vote

    Voters gave Prime Minister Recep Erdogan's AKP just over 42% of the vote, handing the party control of local government in 57 of Turkey's 81 provinces. The AKP also increased its support from the 2002 election, when it came to power with 34% of the vote.

    Meanwhile, with the centre left Republican People's Party (CHP) winning in only nine provinces, there is now little opposition to the AKP at either the local or the national level.

    Two other left of centre parties were victorious in seven provinces, and various right wing parties gained another five.

    Yet, it was never going to be a case of whether the AKP would win or not, but rather by how much would it overwhelm the other parties.

    Some pre-ballot polls had predicted up to 65% of the vote going to the prime minister's party. Indeed, the AKP could have been a victim of its own popularity.

    "The opinion polls in Istanbul and elsewhere that showed the AKP could get more than 50% actually increased the vote of the opposition parties," journalist and political analyst Derya Sazak says. "The polls prompted many who otherwise wouldn't have voted to make the effort."

    Political understanding

    In his victory speech, Prime Minister Erdogan dismissed suggestions that his party, having been given an even bigger mandate, would seek to impose a more conservative Islamic policy platform or discriminate against those regions that did not return an AKP administration.

    Erdogan refuted talk that Islamic
    policy platform would be imposed

    "The AK Party will display its new political understanding based on social centralism by serving all of society, he said. "All mayors will be our mayors. Democracy means the protection of the rights of individuals."

    "When we got 34.4% of votes in the general elections," he continued, "we were told that 65% of the people were against us. Now, the level of support for the AK Party has reached about 50%. Why do they feel uneasy about our success?"

    Return to Sharia

    It was the opposition CHP that had most played on peoples' supposed concerns over the AKP's links to political Islam, raising the spectre of a potential return to Sharia law, should the government's hand be strengthened. It was a strategy that backfired.

    "The first result I see is Turkey being left without an opposition" 

    Cuneyt Ulserver,

    The CHP, established by the founder of the Turkish republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s, paid the price for having appeared ineffectual at the national level. The CHP saw a fall in its support base and the loss of some of its traditional strongholds, most notably the Mediterranean city of Antalya, home of the party's current leader, Deniz Baykal.

    The CHP's poor showing could also be attributed to its failure to come up with alternatives to the AKP, says journalist Cuneyt Ulserver.

    "The first result I see is Turkey being left without an opposition," he said. "The CHP leader Deniz Baykal can insist he will stay in his position but that doesn't mean that he will be a leader any more."

    Strengthening result

    "The CHP went into the election giving the appearance of being anti-European Union in a country were there is a minimum 72% of people in favour of the EU," said Ulserver.

    One female candidate was elected
    mayor of Tunceli, east Turkey

    "The CHP has handed over the mantle of being the party of modernisation and progress to the AKP. This result has strengthened the hand of the government on Cyprus and people have given their support to the AKP as the only party that is able to get a negotiation date for EU membership."

    With the CHP's leader still in seclusion, the first comment from the party on the election outcome came from the party's Secretary General, Oguz Oyan, who said CHP would undertake a rigorous self-examination.

    "The CHP came out of the elections as the leading party of the left, but it is fair to say that we are not be happy or satisfied by this result," he said.

    Socialist voice

    Another party to have its election strategy fail was the centre left Social People's Party (SHP), which took up the mantle of the pro-Kurdish movement in the south east after the main Kurdish bloc, the Democratic People's Party (DEHAP), withdrew from the ballot.

    "The situation for the Social People's Party has shown that an ethnicity approach in the south east is not enough to win elections"

    Derya Sazak,
    Social People's Party 

    Having aimed to win ten of the provinces in the region, the SHP only won control of the Diyarbakir city council and a majority of the province's  municipalities, a far cry from DEHAP's 65% vote in the 1999 local elections.

    According to Derya Sazak, the SHP's low level of support indicates a weakening of ethnic based politics in favour of effective government.

    "The situation for the Social People's Party has shown that an ethnicity approach in the south east is not enough to win elections," he said.


    The election was also a defeat for Turkey's women, with only one female candidate being elected mayor of a provincial capital, that of Tunceli in eastern Turkey. However, this could be considered a fair result as the 22 parties that contested the ballot only nominated four women between them to head their tickets in the 81 provinces.

    Another loser in Sunday's election was the fragmented right of Turkish politics, with the four main blocs representing the secular conservative movement only gaining a combined 24% of the vote, down from the 31% of the last general election.

    Before flying to Switzerland to take part in United Nations brokered negotiations to bring about a reunification of the two states on Cyprus, Prime Minister Erdogan said his party had changed the face of politics in Turkey.

    "The people have given a signal to other parties in today's local elections," he said. "We are obliged to have two party politics in Turkey."

    With both the centre right and left in disarray, it is unclear where the second party Erdogan spoke of is to come from.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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