THE BLOG

Municipal Elections in Turkey - Victory for Erdogan's Party

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, head of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has ruled Turkey for the past 12 years which makes him among the longest serving leaders since the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923. However, his political fortunes had taken a significant downturn last year through his somewhat ham-handed attempts to turn a part of Gezi Park -- a historical landmark in Turkey -- into a replica of an Ottoman military barracks. Gezi Park is a much beloved space in Istanbul. Vociferous demonstrations against the attempts to change its topography were also interpreted by observers as reflecting mounting opposition to Erdogan's authoritarian rule. The law enforcement authorities were ordered to be fierce in breaking up the protests which resulted in a few deaths and a large number of injuries to the demonstrators. In the end, Erdogan had to bow to the will of the demonstrators and postpone the project.

The other major setback suffered by the domineering Prime Minister who may or may not be a victim of hubris after 12 years of incumbency, were the widespread allegations of corruption extending to his family members, ministers and other close associates. Audio recordings of Erdogan talking to his son to cover up alleged financial shenanigans surfaced in the Turkish social media. Erdogan claimed that the recordings had been doctored to besmirch him. He also railed against Fethulla Gülen, a spiritual leader with a large following including in the police and the judiciary. Güllen had been his one-time ally who had become his fierce political opponent, and was reportedly orchestrating a malicious campaign of defamation against him. Gülen lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. He has extensive business interests in Turkey and abroad. If Erdogan is to be believed, it is Güllen's supporters in the police and judiciary that have mounted a vendetta against him and his party with a view to enmeshing him in alleged cases of financial wrongdoing and thereby seriously eroding his political standing. Time will probably bring out what the factual position is and whether the charges against Erdogan and his allies are true or not. What is true is that in order to safeguard his political position, Erdogan has carried out a wide ranging overhaul of Turkey's prosecutorial services and judiciary, aimed at weeding out the Gülenists. For his part, Gülen has denied interfering in Turkish politics. The resulting fracas between Erdogan and Gülen has led to political destabilization in a country which has traditionally been polarized between secular and conservative elements.

It was in this backdrop that the municipal elections in Turkey which have just concluded were widely seen as a confidence vote in Erdogan and his policies. Erdogan himself had depicted the local elections as a referendum on his rule. Partial results on March 30 showed the AK Party with more than 44 percent support overall and ahead in the key contests in the cities of Istanbul and Ankara. There is not much doubt once the final vote has been tallied, to suggest that this represents a significant victory for Erdogan. It would almost certainly restore his political fortunes. It is surmised that Erdogan wishes to contest the Turkish presidency which is a largely symbolic office next year once his term as Prime Minister comes to an end. He could get an impetus for achieving this aspiration on the coattails of the impressive show of popular support which he has received.

Such support is predicated to a large extent on the favorable economic indicators in Turkey during the decade-plus stewardship of the AKP. Turkey in 2014 has come a long way from 2002. It is a much more prosperous and confident nation, notwithstanding the secularist-conservative divide which has been almost endemic in Turkish society. Another great achievement of the Erdogan years has been his success in attenuating the power of the army. The army, since 1923 had become the self-appointed guardian of the Kemalist Revolution [the orientation towards secularism imposed on Turkey by the founder and first president Kemal Attaturk]. Under Erdogan, 60 senior Turkish army officers have been imprisoned for plotting a coup against him. Such an act would have been unthinkable a few years back. Affirming the supremacy of civilian leadership, instead of that of an army junta, would count among Erdogan's achievements. It appears that his political star is far from faded and most probably there is a political future ahead of him.

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