Survey Review: Turkey’s local election and the corruption operations, By Ömer Çaha
Turkey will realize three elections over the course of the next year and a half. Three months after the local election of March 30 comes the presidential election. Following these two critical elections, Turkey will go to the polls a third time in the general election of July 2015. The key question on Turkey’s agenda now is the likely impact on the first of these elections of the corruption investigations launched on Dec. 17, 2013, which implicated senior AK Party members in a graft scandal?
The first point of reference here is the most recent local election in 2009 (Table 1); this will be the yardstick by which success or failure in the 2014 polls is measured, in particular for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), with neither wanting to lose control of their currently held municipalities. The AK Party received 38.4 percent of the vote in the local election of 2009, a drop from both the 46.7 percent it won in the 2007 general election and the 41.7 percent it received in the local election of 2004. The decrease in AK Party support shown in 2009 was attributed to the influence of the global economic crisis of 2008, but the party still chooses to recognize the 2009 result as the standard it must match -- or better -- in March.
The results of the 2009 local election are also important for the CHP: It was this election that paved the way for Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s leadership of the party. His debate with Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek a few months before the election increased his popularity both among CHP voters and nationwide. The CHP ran its election campaign centering on the figure of Kılıçdaroğlu, its İstanbul mayoral candidate, presenting him as a new politician and as a trusted and honest person. The CHP saw positive results in this approach at the polls: It increased its vote from 18 percent in 2004 to 23 percent nationwide in 2009, and to 37 percent from 29 in İstanbul. Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy was widely credited with the increase in the CHP’s vote, giving rise to an expectation, among CHP voters, for his becoming the new party chairman. In 2009 when CHP Chairman Deniz Baykal resigned following a sex tape scandal Kılıçdaroğlu was duly elected the party’s new leader. Kılıçdaroğlu and his team have stated that if they fail to match their 2009 performance they will open the way for a new leader, namely the party’s new İstanbul mayoral candidate (and current mayor of the İstanbul district of Şişli) Mustafa Sarıgül. Many people believe that the coming local election is critical for the CHP in the sense that it will raise the question of who should rule the party: Kılıçdaroğlu or Sarıgül?
THE INFLUENCE OF DEC. 17
There has been much debate as to the likely effect the Dec. 17 operations will have on the AK
Party vote. Public opinion polls before and after the investigations began can shed some light on this question. Two surveys from GENAR, in July 2013 and January 2014, are well suited to this purpose (Figure 1). In the earlier of these two surveys, conducted among 2,294 respondents in 16 cities during the period June 20-July 3 July 2013, the forecast AK Party vote was 50.8 percent. A poll three weeks after Dec. 17 showed the AK Party vote drop to 48.8. This second survey was conducted face-to-face among 3,181 respondents from 30 cities during Jan. 4-8, 2014. The later survey shows a 2 percent drop in support for the AK Party, but 48.8 percent nonetheless still represents a significant gain over the 2009 local election results. The GENAR poll found no fundamental change in the vote for the other three parties, namely the CHP, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).
Two polls from KONDA produced results similar to the GENAR survey. It found an AK Party vote in excess of 50 percent in October 2013, dropping to 47.7 percent in January 2014. The results of KONDA’s
survey indicate that the CHP will get 28.2 percent, the MHP 14.4 percent, the BDP 5.9 percent and other parties 3.7 percent. A further survey on the forthcoming Turkish local elections comes from Konsensus, which conducted a poll among 1,504 respondents from 81 cities through computer-assisted telephone interview (CATI) between Dec. 19, 2013, and Jan. 23, 2014. Its results suggest the AK Party will get 41.7 percent of the total vote in the local elections, while the CHP will get 29.5 percent, the MHP 15.4 percent, the BDP 6.5 percent and others 7.9 percent.
The findings of these surveys underline the fact that the volatility of the AK Party’s vote is greater than that of the other parties. Voters for the ruling party are sensitive to the performance of their party in government, and reflect their reservations at the ballot box. Nonetheless, forecast support for the AK Party in the forthcoming local elections remains well above levels shown in 2009 -- what remains to be seen is whether the party will lose further ground before March 2014.
TURKEY’S MAJOR CITIES
The AK Party government made a fundamental change with regard to the election of mayors in Turkey’s metropolitan municipalities. Under the previous system there were 16 metropolitan municipalities, the mayors of which were elected by those living in the relevant city center. These people had a double vote; for the provincial council on the one hand and for the metropolitan municipality on the other. Meanwhile the new system increases the number of metropolitan municipalities to 30 and gives the chance to elect the metropolitan mayor to all citizens within the border of the province, even those in outlying towns and villages. The metropolitan mayor will thus be elected on the basis of the provincial council votes for their party.
At present 18 of the 30 metropolitan municipalities are ruled by the AK Party, eight by the CHP, three by the BDP and two by the MHP (Figure 2). However, a survey from the Objective Research Company (ORC) indicates that the AK Party is likely to increase the number of metropolitan municipalities it holds in the 2014 local election. The ORC poll was conducted in 30 cities over more than 70,000 respondents through face-to-face interviews during Dec. 24, 2013, to Jan. 18, 2014. As the ORC survey shows, the MHP and BDP will preserve the
number metropolitan municipalities they hold, but the CHP will lose one municipality to the AK Party.
The ORC also investigated the performance of political parties in 10 critical metropolitan municipalities (Table 2). The results of this survey suggest all the parties will preserve their current position in these cities. However, the ORC’s survey shows that in three cities -- İzmir, Antalya and Diyarbakır -- the difference between the AK Party and its rivals seems very small, suggesting a potential surprise in March. The difference between the AK Party and CHP is about 5 percent in İzmir, 6 percent in Antalya and 4 percent in Diyarbakır, according to the ORC survey. It should be borne in mind that the vote for the provincial council will determine the fate of the election in metropolitan municipalities under the new rules.
The three most important metropolitan cities in Turkey are İstanbul, Ankara and İzmir, as regards both their share of vote and their economic and bureaucratic clout. They also have symbolic power; İstanbul and Ankara have become the twin centers of the AK Party, while İzmir has been the “fortress” of CHP since the 1994 local elections. İstanbul is economically the most powerful city in Turkey, and many people believe that its loss would symbolize the loss of Turkey for the AK Party. By the same token the loss of İzmir would represent the crumbling of the CHP’s castle. However, as of the end of January 2014, public opinion polls suggest that both the AK Party and the CHP will preserve their positions in these metropolitan cities.
Finally, ORC’s survey found that four metropolitan municipalities, among 30, will probably change hands during the coming local election: Mersin, Hatay, Ordu and Manisa (Table 3). According to ORC’s survey, the CHP will lose two metropolitan cities, while the AK Party and MHP will lose one municipality each, but will gain one in return. Among these cities Hatay seems the most critical, because the AK Party’s candidate there is former Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin. The loss of this city would perhaps hurt the government more than the loss of any other city -- with the exception of İstanbul.
Protests were rife in Turkey in the wake of a corruption probe at the end of 2013.
The CHP’s hopes for İstanbul rested on the shoulders of mayoral candidate Mustafa Sarıgül (L), shown here with party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu,