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

Kurdish Party Pushes Political Gamble to Run in Turkey Poll

HDP announces it will run as political party instead of fielding independent candidates in June election, but faces tough 10 percent threshold More

Twitter Targets Islamic State

New research shows suspending Twitter accounts of Islamic State, its supporters has been effective; group, its backers are facing 'significant pressure,' says terrorism expert More

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

Majur Juac made the leap from being a refugee in Africa to a master chess champion in US, where he shares his expertise with students More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Webi
X
January 29, 2015 9:58 AM
Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video As Ground Shifts, Obama Reviews Middle East Strategy

The death of Saudi Arabia’s king, the collapse of a U.S.-friendly government in Yemen and a problematic relationship with Israel’s leadership are presenting a new set of complications for the Obama administration and its Middle East policy. Not only is the U.S. leader dealing with adversaries in Iran, the Islamic State and al-Qaida, but he is now juggling trouble with traditional allies, as White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures. For now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Saved By a Mistake - an Auschwitz Survivor's Story

Dagmar Lieblova was 14 when she arrived at Auschwitz in December 1943, along with her entire Czech Jewish family. All of them were to die there, but she was able to leave after several months due to a bureaucratic mix-up which saved her life. Now 85, with three children and six grandchildren, she says she has a feeling of victory. This report by Ahmad Wadiei and Farin Assemi, of RFE/RL's Radio Farda is narrated by RFE’s Raymond Furlong.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid