A victory, but no joy for the AKP

The results of Sunday’s local elections have left all political parties in the position of having to plan their next steps carefully.

The reason is that the outcome of the voting left everyone surprised. Most people were expecting something of a landslide for the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP. This would have meant much of the same all around, a fact that would have relieved the leadership of the various parties from having to engage in forward planning at an early stage for the 2011 general elections. Unfortunately for them, though, the Turkish electorate decided that it should not be business as usual.

As it turned out, a decline to 39 percent of the vote for the AKP is a great disappointment for the party’s executive. The intensity of the blow is doubled because, together with many analysts, the party’s leadership expected a significant gain in these elections. Not only did this not happen but there was a further shock in store after the AKP lost key cities to the opposition, and barely won in Ankara and Istanbul. Not surprisingly, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan admitted his disappointment on the night of the elections when the general picture emerged. The figures, after all, reflected a situation that has been seen previously in Turkey. Namely that a party that has been riding high finds that such turning points in terms of a decline in support can very rarely be recovered from.

Many reasons are being attributed now to this relative decline in support for the AKP. Leading the list is the almost dismissive attitude of Prime Minister Erdoğan in the face of the global economic crisis, especially at a time when jobs were being lost by the thousands on a weekly basis in Turkey. Neither did his abrasive attitude toward the business community, indebted credit card holders or the media Ğ to mention only a few groups that help him much, bringing instead the opposite result of what he would have desired. Clearly more and more people are irked with his angry and acrimonious way of conducting politics.

The list of reasons being cited for Erdoğan’s losses range from the too little, too late work being done for the Kurds in the Southeast, to causing serious concerns in secularist circles on lifestyle issues as well as the general orientation for the country under the AKP. Many felt, in this respect, that his Davos outburst had in fact rebounded, increasing the concerns among liberals that Turkey may be moving toward a radically Islamic group of countries and organizations.

The fact that he lost the Mediterranean and Aegean provinces almost in total to the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, also left many commentators wondering whether this may also have been because of his Davos outburst against Israeli President Shimon Peres. After all, the coastal provinces in Turkey are dependent on tourism and Israeli tourists are an important element of this dependency.

These are just some of the reasons cited for the drop in support for the AKP. Other reasons include serious questions relating to the Ergenekon case, and the allegations of corruption against many figures either connected to the party, or close to it. Prime Minister Erdoğan has said that they will be evaluating the situation and drawing the right lessons from it. It remains to be seen what lessons will be drawn, but a Cabinet reshuffle that will get rid of some ministers Ğ whose districts performed woefully bad Ğ seems to be on the cards. However this will not be enough to convince the public, which clearly wants to see a new orientation from the government.

In the meantime, the pressure is also mounting for the CHP, whose leadership clearly did not expect this decline in support for the AKP. CHP leader Deniz Baykal had even taunted Erdoğan by saying if the AKP did not get 52 percent of the vote, this will be considered a failure for the government. In other words, even Baykal expected a vote for the AKP that could have gone as high as 52. It is also clear that whatever success the CHP returned in these elections, this was either due to the performance of individual candidates, or to other objective factors, rather than to any major contribution by the party’s present leadership.

This puts Mr. Baykal and his assistants in the uncomfortable situation of having to face up to the need to readjust the party’s overall position on key issues and to work hard in the period leading up to the 2011 elections. Baykal also knows, of course, that if they fail to do so, this will lead to calls for his resignation and replacement by a more dynamic person, for example Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who performed exceptionally well in the race for Istanbul mayor on Sunday, even if he lost it in the end by a relatively small margin.

Finally there is the increase in the vote for the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, whose support now stands at 16 percent of the electorate. This party will also work hard now to try and increase its support base in the lead up to 2011. Many consider it unlikely, however, that it could become the main opposition party, let alone the leading party, given its ultra nationalism and the ideological approach related to this.

The bottom line in all this is that the AKP’s magic has been spoiled now in a way that was not expected. Some are even speculating that the 47 percent it got in the last general elections was an artificial one, due to the anger people felt at the interference of the military in the political process in order to try and harm the AKP’s prospects. As it is, one of the lessons of Sunday’s local elections is that if the military does not interfere with the process, then the chances are that the Turkish electorate’s vote will reflect the situation on the ground much more objectively and realistically.

Many consider it good that the AKP’s magic has been spoiled in this way given the dictatorial tendencies that Prime Minister Erdoğan has started to display. The fear was that a landslide in these elections would have meant that there would be nothing left to hold him back. But the Turkish electorate brought him back down to earth, where he is now faced with serious decisions if the erosion of support for his party is not to continue. It is clear that the AKP did not loose these elections per se. But it is clear that there is no joy in this victory for party executives.

What makes matters worse for them is that Turkey is faced with serious social and economic problems as home, and major foreign policy problems abroad. A weaker mandate will make life much more difficult for Prime Minister Erdoğan and his ministers as they try and tackle these major problems. It is unlikely that they were bargaining for this.
Yazarın Tüm Yazıları