Turkey goes to local polls

Friday, March 28, 2014

The elections, sandwiched between last year's mass protests, corruption debates and August presidential polls, means more than local administration for voters at home and abroad

The elections, sandwiched between last year's mass protests, corruption debates and August presidential polls, means more than local administration for voters at home and abroad

ANKARA - Turkey is fast approaching local elections, set for March 30.

With the official period for campaigning close to its end, voters across Turkey will have a day of calm before they go to polling stations to find four ballots waiting for them.

They will elect mayors of cities and districts, city council members, and non-partisan 'muhtars' for villages and neighborhoods. But for many Turkish citizens and the international community, the upcoming elections means more than merely local administration.

March 30 marks the first ballot since last year’s anti-government protests in the summer and the anti-corruption probes in December.

The Turkish government, led by three-term Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, views both the protests and the investigations as efforts to topple it.

For these and a flurry of wiretapping leaks since late last year, Erdogan holds a “state within the state” -- comprising of followers of a U.S.-based Turkish preacher and allegedly in cahoots with unspecified foreign links -- responsible.

"This is a struggle for our future and freedom. Either you or tapes will rule Turkey in the future," Prime Minister Erdogan told an election rally this week.

Birol Guven of the Ankara-based think tank Strategic Thinking agrees that March 30 polls aren't merely another visit to the polling stations across 81 provinces and 957 districts.

"Elections are a measure of the quality of a democracy. Transparent and fair elections are the main source of legitimacy for modern governments," Guven says.

Guven says voters discontented with AK Party rule, as evidenced by last year’s anti-government protests, have begun to believe a change of power may start with the local elections.

A drop in votes, however small, would reveal a weakening government in their view, he adds.

Local elections may also be fateful for presidential polls to come on August and the general elections next year, with Erdogan’s name often mentioned for presidency.

The latest poll surveys suggest the AK Party is on its way to another election victory, while some believe a decisive outcome will prove a challenge after the corruption probe and online leaks that have targeted Erdogan and his allies.

The AK Party has won the last three general and two local elections, increasing its vote every time. Its strongest showing was at the last general polls in 2011 when it won almost one in every two votes.

The results of the most recent local elections in 2009 put AK Party’s vote at 38 percent, the main opposition Republican People’s Party won 23 percent and the Nationalist Movement Party received 15 percent.

However, for 2014 local elections, there is confusion over how to calculate partisan votes, due to ballot differences introduced in 2012 and last year, in metropolitan municipalities and other provinces.

Big cities will nonetheless be a strong indicator of party success, with the highest stakes lying over Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.

The three cities, among a total of 81, account for 30 percent of Turkey’s 76-million population.

Copyright © 2014 Anadolu Agency