Turkey’s municipal elections on Sunday were full of surprises – great for some and downright concerning for others.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on paper appeared to be the winner with the most votes overall.
But with the loss of Turkey’s great cities of Ankara, Izmir, and possibly even Istanbul to its main opposition rival, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), this is a mutilated victory for Erdogan’s party.
Meanwhile, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) suffered its own setbacks in Kurdish-majority areas of the country.
AKP: winner in the east, loser in the west
The pro-Islamic AKP seems very pleased with its result in eastern and southeastern parts of the country after grabbing key Kurdish areas from the HDP, including Agri, Sirnak, and Bitlis, according to unofficial results published by state media.
“I want to talk about a very important thing. I thank all my people, typically our Kurdish brethren, for feeling responsible for our [national] survival,” Erdogan told supporters in Ankara as results trickled in late Sunday.
Erdogan however refrained from commenting on his party’s waning support in Ankara, Izmir, and Istanbul. He even omitted mention of the AKP’s candidate for Istanbul, Binali Yildirim, who gave up his job as parliamentary speaker in order to run for mayor.
Known as Erdogan’s “yes man,” Yildirim was quick in announcing his “victory” on election night. With unofficial results yet to be declared in this marginal seat, he may have spoken too soon.
AKP’s losses in Ankara were widely expected. But Istanbul, which the party has held for 15 years, was seen as a safe bet. Erdogan was confident Yildirim would beat the CHP’s Ekrem Imamoglu, who was relatively unknown before his nomination.
There are those still questioning the Ankara result, however, including the AKP’s general secretary Fatih Sahin, who tweeted late on Sunday: “There are invalid votes and irregularities” in most of the more than 12,000 polling stations in Ankara.
CHP, MHP: the real winners?
CHP performed poorly in the presidential and parliamentary election of June 2018 – its presidential candidate Muharrem Ince roundly trounced by Erdogan.
However, in local polls the party has enjoyed a boost, with potential wins in the big cities softening the blow of more lackluster performances elsewhere.
Established by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, the CHP was long the natural party of government and a champion of Ataturk’s secularism.
HDP did not field candidates in Istanbul and Ankara and urged its supporters to back CHP against AKP.
Dilan Dirayet, an HDP lawmaker, told Rudaw English the party’s strategy to defeat AKP in the big cities had succeeded.
The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which forged an alliance with AKP, also seems satisfied with its result.
Devlet Bahceli, the MHP leader, said late Sunday that Turkey “has passed through an historical process and shown that domestic democracy is strong despite foreign traps.”
Ziryan Rojhalati, a researcher at Rudaw Research Centre, said both nationalist parties can be considered the real winners of the election.
“The first winners are CHP and MHP. MHP has increased its votes and the CHP was able to make a change through its alliance [with opposition parties]. It made a hope for its voters that it can have the chance of a great victory in coming elections.”
AKP’s “alliance with the MHP has mostly benefited the MHP,” he said. AKP and HDP meanwhile were “the main losers.”
What about HDP?
Despite its alliance
with a number of Kurdish and pro-Kurdish parties, the HDP does not seem to have secured the result it had hoped for, actually losing key provinces.
Its Kurdish allies also made few gains.
HDP’s biggest loss is Agri, which has been held by the party for years.
Dirayet, who represents Agri in the Turkish parliament, told Rudaw English the party admits it has faults that need to be addressed. However, she also blamed government pressure and “threats” for reducing the turnout of its traditional supporters.
She also accused pro-government trustees, installed by Ankara to replace the HDP mayors arrested for alleged terror offenses, of waging a “psychological war against HDP voters by telling them no matter who they vote for, finally the AKP will win.”
This left people feeling “discouraged.”
She also said “the campaign was not democratic” because Turkish media ignored HDP election ads – fearing AKP reprisals.
Another factor that undermined HDP’s performance was the shortage of “skilled and influential” candidates, Dirayet confessed. Stronger HDP candidates were rejected by the electoral commission (YSK), again under AKP pressure, she alleged.
Rudaw Research Center’s Rojhalati is not convinced the HDP strategy of backing CHP candidates against the AKP in the country’s west had succeeded. “This could only be considered a victory if it [HDP] maintained its own votes. Each party will do politics for itself, not to make another party win.”
HDP did have some victories, narrowly taking Kars from MHP.
Addressing supporters late on Sunday in Diyarbakir – where the party beat AKP by a large margin – HDP co-chair Pervin Buldan said “democratic forces and Kurds have won in all places.”
Buldan also accused rivals of fraud.
“Dear people, we have not lost Sirnak, Dersim, and Agri because all sort of games and frauds were committed in these cities,” she said.
“Today only in Sirnak, 12,000 people were brought in to vote, meaning that Sirnak was totally occupied,” Buldan alleged.
“Therefore, we do not say that we lost Sirnak. The people of Sirnak, Dersim, and Agri have won,” she added.
The party has filed a complaint to the YSK, claiming it may have lost Mus as a result of fraud.
According to Turkey’s state-backed Anadolu Agency, HDP won fewer votes in most Kurdish provinces compared to the 2014 local elections.