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After months of heated campaigns dominated by Turkey’s economy, national security, and equal representation, millions of Turkish citizens cast their ballots in local elections on Sunday 31 March, 2019.
The local election was a test for President Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), as it was not only the opposition that was holding him accountable for the devastating economy and security situation, but AKP supporters too.
In 2001, Turkey experienced a grievous financial crisis. It was believed that the crisis was a result of failure of the public sector to fully implement the free market rationale of globalization.
According to The Washington Post, in the national election of 2002, Erdogan and the AKP came to power by promising democracy and prosperity. Erdogan and his ruling party, despite their out-of-scope definition of democracy and inefficient economic decision-making, managed to be a leading party for 16 years.
However, Erdogan and his ruling party faced a new test in the recent local election as Turkey is facing a new picture.
According to Al Jazeera, the Turkish lira has lost as much as 40 percent of its value against the US dollar. Turkey is facing a recession as inflation and interest rates have increased due to the depreciation of the Turkish lira. Many have and continue to blame Erdogan and the AKP for Turkey’s current state. Erdogan, however, has blamed foreign powers for the currency fluctuations.
Despite the election being at the local level, it has turned into an important and special one. In this election, political parties created alliances and became more strategic. The ruling party and far right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have joined forces, while the centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the right wing İyi Party have merged blocs. Both blocs have created joint candidates across the country.
The recession, 13.5 percent unemployment rate, inflation, and depreciation of the currency have threatened Erdogan and his ruling party. Prior to the elections, the AKP was cautious about protecting the votes of Istanbul and Ankara, the two most important cities in Turkey. Despite the candidate for Istanbul being the former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, Erdogan took matters into his own hands and took to the streets himself.
Despite these efforts, the AKP’s main opposition party won the mayoral race in Ankara and several other big and previously AKP-dominated cities. According to The Washington Post, despite the AKP claiming victory in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, the major parties went head to head.
Although Erdogan has captured and maintained the majority of the votes nationwide, he has lost two major cities in Turkey- Ankara, the capital, and Istanbul. The not-so-surprising outcome of the local election forces one to question the power and future of the AKP.
This election may be a symbol of hope for Turkey to protect democracy in future elections.