News / Middle East

Turkey’s Municipal Elections Pose Major Test for Erdogan

A poster of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on an election billboard of his Justice and Development Party in Istanbul, March 27, 2014.
A poster of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on an election billboard of his Justice and Development Party in Istanbul, March 27, 2014.
Dorian Jones
Turkey holds nationwide municipal elections on Sunday, March 30. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, mired in corruption allegations, has made the polls a referendum on his rule. With such high stakes, the vote is being widely seen as one of the most important in the country’s history. 
 
All of Turkey’s political leaders have been touring the country campaigning and addressing mass rallies. Asli Aydintasbas, a political commentator for the Turkish TV channel CNN Turk, says these local elections are unprecedented in Turkey.

"These really don’t feel like local elections; this is essentially a referendum about Erdogan. It has more the mood of a general election. It’s about the corruption investigations and whether or not (the ruling) AKP [Party] is good," said Aydintasbas.

Prime Minister  Erdogan has been mired in corruption allegations since last December, when prosecutors launched probes into high-level government graft.

In his speeches at mass meetings across the country,  Erdogan claims the corruption probes are part of a conspiracy to unseat his government and insists an election victory will vindicate him.

But his campaign has been handicapped by back-to-back releases of alleged telephone recordings of the prime minister and members of his inner circle implicating him in corruption and misdeeds.

In an unprecedented move, Turkish authorities banned both Twitter and YouTube in a bid to block the release of further recordings.

Kadri Gursel, a political columnist for Turkey's Milliyet newspaper, says if the prime minister fails at the polls, it could  trigger unrest within his own party.

"I don’t think in his party that every repressing, oppressing, limiting move is accepted and approved and welcomed. But I think people in his party do wait for the local elections," said Gursel.
 
According to opinion polls, the ruling AK Party enjoys a strong lead. Erdogan has defined success as surpassing the 38 percent share of the votes he secured in the last local elections. But observers say just as important will be the AK Party's ability to maintain its 20-year municipal control of the capital Ankara and Istanbul - both of which, the same polls indicate, will be close contests.

Soli Ozel, a political scientist at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, says the importance of the polls and political polarization make Sunday's election a difficult test for Turkey's democracy.
 
"The local elections are as important as any elections I have witnessed since my birth. It will test our ability to conduct our elections freely and fairly. Already, it’s not really very fair because of the non-exposure of certain political parties, the control of the media and stuff like that. But we have never really had serious problems in the way we conduct our elections and I hope the municipal elections don’t turn out to be the first one," said Ozel.

According to figures published by RTUK, the government’s own media watchdog, during one week of election campaigning, one of the state TV channels devoted 89 percent of its coverage to the ruling party. The remaining 11 percent was divided among the three main opposition parties.

Concern over the fairness of the election campaign has extended to Brussels, according to Richard Howitt, a member of European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.

"Certainly watching carefully; we cannot, obviously, say in advance whether we believe they will be fair or not. But we will absolutely be watching carefully. That will be done through the Council of Europe.  The results of that will be taken extremely seriously," said Howitt.

All of Turkey’s main political parties, including the ruling AK Party, have voiced fears over the fairness of the polls. All of the parties, as well as non-partisan organizations, are mobilizing tens of thousands of volunteers to monitor the vote.

But even if it is fair and the government wins, Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, warns that the corruption allegations and deepening political polarization could ultimately make any electoral success a pyrrhic victory for the prime minister.

"I am afraid the political consequences will be quite severe, because regardless the vote [the] AKP will get in local elections, it's become much more difficult for Erdogan to rule this country, essentially because of this erosion of legitimacy," said Ulgen.

With the election fast approaching, all the political parties are intensifying their campaigns .  Whatever the outcome of Sunday's vote, observers say the result is likely to have a profound effect on Turkey's political future.

You May Like

Photogallery Strong Words Start, May End, S. African Xenophobic Attacks

President Jacob Zuma publicly condemned rise in attacks on foreign nationals but critics say leadership has been less than welcoming to foreign residents More

Video Family Waits to Hear Charges Against Reporter Jailed in Iran

Reports in Iran say Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage, but brother tells VOA indictment has not been made public More

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Action to Stabilize Libya

Amnesty International says multinational concerted humanitarian effort must be enacted to address crisis; decrepit boats continue to bring thousands of new arrivals daily More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs