Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could not manage to emerge unscathed from the March 31 municipal elections in 81 provinces of Turkey that saw people choose mayors of 30 metropolitan cities, 51 provincial capitals and 922 districts. Erdogan did declare victory, but the opposition’s success in key cities dealt a significant blow to his party’s dominance that began way back in 1994.
The economic downturn that the 81 million-strong nation is grappling with did impact the vote, as a recent survey had suggested. About 65 per cent of the respondents had cited recession, inflation and unemployment among their top concerns rather than security, and more than half had thought these economic factors would affect their vote.
Erdogan’s conservative Justice and Development Party, the AKP, along with its allied nationalist party, still came out on top winning more than half of the votes polled across the country, but the fact that the ruling party lost the capital Ankara, with the count for Istanbul mayor too close to call till yesterday morning, well explains the symbolic blow struck by the opposition Republican People’s Party or CHP to Erdogan’s image as the invincible leader of Turkey.
Even though Erdogan is firmly entrenched in an all-powerful presidency after winning re-election last year, political analysts do see the elections for mayors and city councils as a referendum on what is described as his authoritarian style of rule. Ankara and Istanbul together summarise Erdogan’s incredible political ascent to power about a quarter century ago. That one is lost and the other uncertain does point towards the brewing political challenge to the Turkey’s strongman from a surprisingly-cohesive opposition. Head-scarfed women being spotted at CHP’s election rallies – and that too in noticeable numbers – may well mean the beginning of changing times in Turkey’s politics.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 2nd, 2019.
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