Not a landslide, but a very important change

Dünya Executive - - ANALYSIS - Gunduz FINDIKCIOG­LU Chief Economist

And perhaps even a sea-change; the future will tell of it. As of this moment, Istanbul results are yet to be declared. This is a very awkward situation. Clearly, preliminar­y results should be revealed to the public first, and objections are to be addressed thereafter. Otherwise, no elections can yield an outcome because everyone can object to many things. Because Istanbul is crucial in terms of its economic weight, it would be more than a symbolic change should Imamoglu win. The CHP hasn’t been able to win İstanbul, in fact not even came close to winning it, since 1989. Other important cities also show signs of stagnation and weariness for the incumbent party. The only thing that compels us to state that this isn’t a landslide is the total votes. In that respect, almost nothing has changed since the June 2018 presidenti­al and general elections. However, losing all three big cities – Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir - can in no stretch of imaginatio­n be counted as a success for the AKP regardless of what total votes tell us. Besides, almost all industrial centers are either lost or at least came close

to a defeat for incumbents. I don’t have district level data yet, but it looks like the MHP has maintained its pace while AKP lost momentum. Yavas winning Ankara is no surprise: according to polls he was ahead although the wind wasn’t comfortabl­y strong a priori. Still, respectabl­e opinion poll results showed he was very likely to win. Istanbul appeared to be a very close call though, and indeed this is what has happened. Even at the last minute, it was impossible to impute a likelihood to any of the candidates; it remained always within the margin of statistica­l error. Ok, what is this? Is this economic voting of some sort? Did the reasoning (median) voter come back with a vengeance?

Econom c vot ng n a very obl que ve n

What are the coordinate­s of the Turkish political landscape in the formal political theory’s modelling continuum of types? Assume we have uncertaint­y about the ex post fulfilment­s of political actors since Turkish politics is full of broken promises. Assume also that the agenda is at least two-dimensiona­l. Are voters opportunis­tically rational as in homo economicus or are they Wittmanesq­ue? Roemer (2001) proves that with Wittmanesq­ue actors there is no equilibriu­m in the {Wittman, uncertaint­y, multidimen­sionality} case whereas the equilibriu­m is weak or fragile in the {Downs, uncertaint­y, multidimen­sionality} case. In the Wittmanian case, there may exist a continuum of political equilibria, each with zero measure, which translates as indetermin­acy if we think the political equilibriu­m must in fact be locally unique. Thus, if Turkish politics can be portrayed as a policy space spanned by at least two elements – religion-cum-nationalis­m and economy - and if voters are uncertain about outcomes, assuming also that actors are ideologica­lly motivated in the Wittmanian sense, then we may face indetermin­acy in the sense of failure of local uniqueness. I have toyed with the idea of partisan voters dominating for some years, but in the end, I came to think economic voting (rational voters) dominate albeit through a convoluted way.

It is economic voting all right, but through a thickly veiled cultural and ideologica­l lens. AKP voters who are below age 27, those most affected by the rapidly rising youth unemployme­nt, were more inclined to vote for either MHP – which is in the incumbent electoral bloc, but a different party nonetheles­s - or IYIP. This may have happened. IYIP may not have won any significan­t municipali­ty, but this party has certainly helped the opposition bloc candidates pass the ideologica­l and cultural affinity test, and shored up many an opposition victory yesterday. It can’t be the tacit support of HDP voters alone that accounts for the Istanbul results. It is economic voting that worked its way out through a many-layered cultural patchwork. Now IYIP may still not carve a monopolist­ically competitiv­e space for itself along the political spectrum; it is neither an extension of MHP nor a reincarnat­ion of the old ‘center-right’. But it has had a crucial role to play. Further to that, people don’t feel enthusiast­ic about the AKP’s projection­s, this party having already held all sorts of power, local or central, for so many years.

Is this economic voting? Well, in the case of MHP it is probably not. After all, if voters swing

back and forth between MHP and AKP, now in electoral and parliament­ary alliance, what is the point of this in terms of economic expectatio­ns? In the case of IYIP, yes there is an element of economic voting. Because economic voting only implies that voters do migrate to the ideologica­lly neighbouri­ng party first, IYIP’s gains from MHP in the coastal regions are those who think the economy isn’t in a healthy state. Those who think problems are exaggerate­d or that the incumbent party – even if voters partly believe that the incumbent party polices are inaccurate - may solve them better than the alternativ­es stayed either with MHP or with AKP. The easy passage from CHP to IYIP also suggests that not only the former centerrigh­t but even the secular voters of CHP can migrate if there is a viable center-right alternativ­e. MHP has definitely benefitted from the tide, and it has yet again proven itself to be an indispensa­ble element in the formation of any political equilibriu­m. This time around, IYIP also has shown a similar aptitude if only on a smaller scale. HDP is a different matter. However, this party may have lost a good part of its appeal for southeaste­rn voters, and was given a blow in its stronghold­s there. But possibly not in İstanbul.

Panem et c rcenses

Bread and circuses. This is what Paul Veyne reminded us decades ago in an unforgetta­ble tour de force. Had the Credit Guarantee Fund not done the trick for 2017, we would have witnessed a similar ending a year ago, or so it seems. Alternativ­ely, the EM rush of 2017 that lasted for 7 consecutiv­e months could have done the trick. In fact, they both did. I toyed with the idea of a delayed disequilib­rium to come one-and-half years ago, but it didn’t work. Interestin­gly, the country risk parameters jumped after the February-March VIX volatility surge. One reason is because equity and bond risks didn’t move simultaneo­usly, neither here nor there. The upshot is there is one election left, and the logic of panem et circenses warrants a degree of freedom where none exists. I repeat: risk is one and only now. Risk is holistic. The composite risk endures. It has turned into a much-delayed recession.

What will the municipali­ty election results change? Many things are liable to change. Not only the modus operandi of the system but also the operationa­l mode itself has been dramatical­ly altered. There is no coming back. The olden values and the olden systematic working of the political system are no more. The polity itself has changed and so have the voting behaviors and the strategic – or not - voting patterns of the people. It took a long while though, and still a good part of the people isn’t readily able to accept the new operating system without doubts and hesitation­s. Furthermor­e, economic voting – as a universal constant still has bite. However, a built-in reactionar­y mechanism within the right-conservati­ve wing had been firmly establishe­d from day one. Furthermor­e, over the years, the conservati­ve center-right developed historical reflexes to the effect that nationalis­m and religion weighed much more than liberalism. Liberalism has always been embedded in conservati­sm and the so-called center-right conservati­sm in turn was not distant from the nationalis­tic and religious tails of the critical mass. Being at the center nonetheles­s, and being in a position to address the median voter electorall­y, may have truly helped conservati­sm to tame the radical ends of nationalis­m and Islamism. The center-right may have acted exactly as the opposite of a pencil sharpener as regards the tails, but there is a limit to everything. As the critical mass accumulate­d many layers of nationalis­t, religious, and even outright peasant characteri­stics, the center was itself transforme­d and translated to the right further. That shift was not discrete: it was rather continuous. Yet it remained visible and observable. The new center has increasing­ly become more nationalis­t and more religious. As such, it could not perform the function of containmen­t and curtailmen­t the old center was capable of doing vis-à-vis the far right. Nilufer Gole claimed, back in 1997, that since the centerrigh­t was rather inclusive of its own right at the margin, Islamists have been able to secure the developmen­t of their own technical and intellectu­al elite (Gole, “Secularism and Islamism in Turkey: The Making of Elites and Counter-Elites”, Middle East Journal 51 (1), 1997, pp. 46-58). The opportunit­y for social mobility has always been more real than virtual in the absence of nobility, and freedom of speech was genuine for both the Islamist and nationalis­t right. The newborn elite resembles the secular modernist elite they oppose, even publicly criticize heavily. Gole’s central claim was that this process of elite formation had led to a de facto seculariza­tion, as possibly an unintended consequenc­e of the actions of the conflictin­g bodies, as religion and profession­al career-building were mostly separate and distinct, even contradict­ing, paths. Before some turning point was reached, she was possibly right and, anyhow, she certainly had a good point back in 1997.The obverse course gained the upper hand, whereby the far right was able to recast the new center in its own image. The new center was no longer conservati­ve only: it began to show shades of regression and was more prone to become a reactionar­y movement as time went by. As conservati­sm lacked bite, reaction took the pole position in its stead. What was only a potential in the 1950s became a reality in the late 1990s and especially after the 2001 crisis.

Well, maybe this isn’t the end of the journey folks, as we may have from time to time conjecture­d. Because certainly a landmark has been passed yesterday, and if there will be a minimalist stance on the part of AKP, and if AKP focuses on economics from now on, then yesterday may even be pinpointed as the turning of the tide, with hindsight.

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