Ahead of the local elections to be held in March 2024, less than a year after the major presidential and parliamentary elections, Turkish political parties are in search of new strategies to take over the local governments, which will also shape the post-election political landscape of Turkish politics.
While opposition seems to be shattered, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) reiterated their 5-year alliance, despite the rumours that there is a crack in the cooperation after MHP leader Bahçeli rejected Erdoğan’s recent suggestion to change the constitution.
IYI Party rejected CHP
The search for an alliance in the opposition also seems to be shattered as the IYI Party rejected the main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) cooperation call for the local elections.
“The Party’s administrative board has discussed the issue (CHP’s proposal) thoroughly and decided to enter into elections freely and independently,” the party’s spokesperson, Kürşad Zorlu, said after the 3-hour meeting on December 4.
Following the political fallout within the opposition block after the May elections, CHP’s new leader, Özgür Özel, visited Akşener on November 30 to ask for cooperation in local elections “at least in some cities” to ensure the win.
Speaking after the IYI Party’s statement, CHP leader Özel said in his party’s parliamentary group meeting that the main opposition “will expand their search for an alliance with the social base.”
“From now on, we will form an alliance with all our people,” he added, adding, “I invite all our people to unite against rent-seeking and plunder in a populist municipalism.”
The IYI Party and CHP cooperated in the 2018 parliamentary elections, which ensured the IYI Party had seats in parliament. The cooperation transformed into an alliance in the following local elections, which resulted in a victory for the CHP that ended 25 years of Erdoğan rule in Istanbul.
The alliance continued for the May 2023 elections, enlarged into a wider oppositional cooperation of six parties against Erdoğan, which was called the “table of six.”
Has IYI lost its momentum?
The defeat of the opposition in the May parliamentary elections and the re-election of Erdoğan with 52 percent of the votes against CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu have caused turmoil both in “Table of 6” and in the opposition parties within themselves.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has lost his seat to Özgür Özel, who was the candidate of the dissident movement within the party that called themselves the movement of “change” led by Istanbul’s popular Metropolitan Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu.
İYİ Party Leader Meral Akşener, on the other hand, tightened her grip on the party, which has lost many members after the election defeat, some arguing that joining alliances was a mistake. Resignations did not put an end to the upheaval in the party; instead, internal disciplinary actions and criminal complaints are currently shaking the party.
Once portrayed as a new breath in Turkish politics, which was claimed to be in need of a new central-right party to rejuvenate the political sphere, the IYI Party seems to lose its momentum with the inner struggles and discussions.
However, Akşener looks stubborn in her quest to prove the worth of the party within Turkish politics, despite the comments that dismissing the alliance would cause the party to further lose votes and influence on the oppositional base.
Importance of the local elections
The importance of the local elections lies in the fact that the flow of resources at the hands of local governments is highly critical to shaping political organisation in the cities and provinces.
For example, Istanbul’s Metropolitan Municipality’s budget is bigger than the GDPs of 80 countries, including Albania, Macedonia, and Armenia. The budget of 31.9 billion Turkish lira ($13.7 billion) was allocated to the city last year, a figure that exceeds the budgets for 19 Turkish ministries.
The allocation of the budget is also crucial in the reorganisation of the political base with a budget that can be allocated to civil society and NGO’s, which is also a growing debate on the ruling AK Party’s political strategy, which allegedly included selectively funding organisations for political gain.
In addition, after the May elections, the opposition’s movements in local elections will also determine the oppositional landscape in terms of strategic approximations.
Ruling “People’s Alliance” forever?
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AK Party announced that it will continue its cooperation with the MHP despite rumours of falling out.
Erdoğan and MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli met on November 29 to discuss the further details of their local election cooperation.
Following the meeting, Erdoğan said that the “People Alliance” of the two parties continues with “mutual understanding.”
The alliance’s goals will be to take back metropolitan municipalities that the opposition won in the 2019 elections and to ensure a majority in local governments.
The MHP will not nominate candidates in many cities to support the AK Party’s candidate, and the AK Party will support the MHP’s candidate in several cities with a cemented MHP vote.
The two parties’ cooperation was put to discussion after President Erdoğan suggested making a constitutional amendment to change the election requirement of the president.
MHP discarded Erdoğan’s 50+1 bid
The current constitution, which was taken into effect after the 2017 referendum and presented by the People’s Alliance, stipulates that a candidate should receive 50 percent plus one vote to be elected president.
MHP leader Bahçeli, who had no more than 7 percent of the votes at that time, had defended the article. It was argued that due to the necessity of ensuring a 50 percent majority, the parties are forced to form alliances, which make parties with a small vote base gain political leverage.
Some claimed that Erdoğan’s suggestion to change the 50+1 percent rule was targeting MHP and other small parties that gained strategic importance, while others were arguing that he wanted to guarantee another term as president.
The MHP leader was swift in his refusal to Erdoğan’s offer with a careful tone, adding that “the alliance is still strong.”
Erdoğan: Istanbul again?
Erdoğan added “Istanbul again” in his speech after the two met in November, setting a clear target for the ruling block to retake Istanbul and its billion-dollar budget.
However, the ruling alliance still does not have any candidates for the mayor seat of the megacity.
Their job would not be easy, even with the opposition’s shattered picture. According to the recent poll, Istanbulites favour Imamoğlu over any other candidate with around 34 of the votes. However, around 11 percent answered that the profile of the future candidate would change their mind.
Within the political backstages, former Minister of Environment Murat Kurum was among the names that the AK Party is considering, as was Metin Külünk. Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya’s name has been in circulation as the AK Party’s candidate for Istanbul; however, he dismissed the claims on December 4.