Dr. Saeed Al-Haj

Dr. Saeed Al-Haj

Some elections, depending on their significance, have impacts and repercussions on the political and party landscape in Turkey. The recent local elections held at the end of last March are of this type; although they are local elections related to municipal work, they carried and were loaded with political dimensions before the election and after the results appeared, specifically after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came in second place for the first time behind its traditional rival, the Republican People's Party (CHP).

Before these elections, and since the adoption of the presidential system in the country in 2017, a clear phenomenon has emerged in Turkish political life: the fragmentation of major traditional parties. Two parties were founded by former leaders of the AKP, Ahmet Davutoğlu and Ali Babacan. Several parties split from the CHP, the most notable being the Homeland Party led by former presidential candidate Muharrem İnce. Fatih Erbakan, son of former Prime Minister and well-known Islamist leader Necmettin Erbakan, established the New Welfare Party, which split from the Felicity Party. Additionally, several nationalist parties emerged from the Good Party, which itself was a splinter from the Nationalist Movement Party.

Since the adoption of the presidential system in 2017, a phenomenon of fragmentation of the major traditional parties has emerged

 The main reason for this fragmentation is the implementation of the presidential system in the country, which shifted the utmost importance from the Grand National Assembly (parliament) and the government—and thus political parties—to the presidency and the president. This change has made parties relatively less important in the internal political equation, especially since the presidential system granted extensive powers to the president and his government at the expense of the parliament, which is composed of various political parties.

This primary reason is in addition to previous factors such as the economic crisis, political stagnation in the country in recent years, and the search by the political elite and some societal segments for new alternatives to the existing well-known parties.

Elections have always had repercussions on political life, especially legislative elections. However, the recent local elections had a significant impact because they carried additional stakes. For instance, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) claimed it could regain the municipalities of Ankara and Istanbul. The leader of the Good Party (İYİ Party), Meral Akşener, staked her future leadership of the party on its performance in the elections. Additionally, the Republican People's Party (CHP) changed its leader shortly before the elections.

The Opposition

The most significant backlash from the recent elections within the opposition was felt by the Good Party (İYİ Party). Its leader, Meral Akşener, had firmly refused to form an alliance with the Republican People's Party (CHP) again, promising significant progress for her party and pledging to take full responsibility if this did not happen.

As the elections resulted in a significant decline for her party, making it one of the biggest losers, Akşener called for an extraordinary party congress to elect a new leader and did not run for re-election. Consequently, she stepped down from the leadership and largely withdrew from political life after Musavat Dervişoğlu was elected as the new leader of the Good Party.

The most prominent message the Justice and Development Party (AKP) took away from the elections is the necessity for change and renewal

The poor results and the leadership change imply that the Good Party (İYİ Party) will be preoccupied in the upcoming period with organizing its internal affairs, restructuring its ranks, and attempting to regain the trust of the public, particularly the nationalist segment. It also suggests that its chances in the post-Devlet Bahçeli era (the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party and the nationalist movement in Turkey) have significantly declined for the foreseeable future unless there is a major unexpected change.

On another front, newly established small opposition parties, with the exception of the New Welfare Party, did not win the mayoralty of any major city or province and received very modest results in the elections they entered independently after joining the Nation Alliance in the presidential and legislative elections last year. This means that the continued presence of these parties in the internal political scene is at risk today, requiring exceptional efforts to establish themselves, their positions, and their programs to convince the public.

The most significant impact within the opposition relates to its largest party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), which underwent an internal battle resulting in the ousting of its leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, in favor of the candidate of the Change Movement, Özgür Özel. The election results, which placed the party first for the first time in decades, strengthened Özel's leadership and confirmed that the leadership change was beneficial for the party, greatly boosting his faction's morale.

Thus, the opposition party is approaching the current post-election phase with high morale and different slogans, claiming that the people chose it to lead the country even though the elections were local, as previously explained. One manifestation of this confidence is Özel's visit to the AKP and his reception of Erdoğan at the party's headquarters, something his predecessor had not done for many years.

The Ruling Alliance

On the other side, what was said about the Good Party (İYİ Party) also applies to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which is allied with the Justice and Development Party (AKP), except that its leader, Devlet Bahçeli, remains in command. However, the party has experienced a significant decline, prompting President Erdoğan to reconsider the logic of the alliance with the MHP, its structure, and its impact on the AKP. This requires detailed analysis beyond the scope of this article.

The most significant repercussion was on the AKP, which has been governing the country alone and has won every electoral contest since 2002, but finished second for the first time. One of the most notable impacts on the ruling party was the emergence of a strong competitor among newly established conservative parties: the New Welfare Party led by Fatih Erbakan. This party placed third in its first local elections, running independently without any alliances, making it the dark horse of the recent electoral contest.

The political repercussions of the recent elections surpassed the traditional significance and scope of municipal elections

Despite the New Welfare Party's limited prospects in upcoming legislative elections due to its ideological constraints, its emergence prompted the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to reassess and tighten its competition strategy against this new Islamic party. This was evident in decisions related to Gaza and trade with the Zionist entity made by President Erdoğan and the government after the elections.

Conversely, the AKP's most prominent and clear message from the elections was the necessity for change, reform, development, and renewal. President Erdoğan pledged to implement these changes in the upcoming phase, starting with the party's general conference. Initial stages included consultative meetings with mayors and the parliamentary bloc, culminating in the renewal of executive, consultative, and oversight bodies.

However, the AKP acknowledges that its customary conference-related changes may not suffice in light of the heavy electoral setback and the clear message from the electorate. Erdoğan's statement that this was not merely a loss of votes but a loss of spirit and voter confidence underscores the urgency for the party to rectify its course.

Thus, following a meticulous evaluation of the recent election results, the AKP is in a phase of reevaluating its overall policies, positions, rhetoric, and some alliances, deciding on necessary adjustments or changes. Mere personnel changes at the helm of provincial branches or within leadership bodies will not be enough to regain the trust of segments that expressed dissent at the ballot box.

In conclusion, the political and party-related repercussions of the recent elections exceeded the traditional significance of municipal mandates. They had direct and indirect impacts on the entire political landscape, placing various parties before significant challenges leading up to the next presidential and legislative elections in 2028, which seem poised to determine the fates of several parties and their leaderships.


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