Four months after the June 24 elections, Turkey is once again bound for the ballot box. Though the forthcoming election on March 31 is one in which municipal bodies will be elected, the political atmosphere suggests it will be more like a general election. Associate Professor Vahap Coşkun maintains that despite President Erdoğan’s menacing threats targeting the region, HDP (People’s Democratic Party) is likely to regain a vast majority of municipalities in the region, which had been replaced by trustees appointed by the government.

Hayri Demir

As Turkey plunges into a new election atmosphere after the June 24 ballot, the present climate implies that the coming elections will not be merely local but more decisive and substantial in nature. Following the statement that there will be no “electoral alliance” between AKP (Justice and Development Party) and MHP (Nationalist Movement Party), the very alliance was officially announced. Likewise, there is the hearsay that CHP (Republican People’s Party) and IYI (Good) Parti will collaborate in the elections. It is said that HDP (People’s Democratic Party) will win back all the municipalities in the region where their mayors had been replaced by appointed trustees. This assertion is put forth by Vahap Coşkun, Associate Professor at Faculty of Law, Dicle University.

AKP-MHP ALLIANCE

The elections on March 31 will serve as a litmus test for the legitimacy of the new presidential system. MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli’s remark that “there will be no alliance in the local elections” had led to the assumption that a partnership was out of question for the local elections for these two parties. Nonetheless, dialogues between AKP and MHP recommenced with the assertion “We are ready to make any concession so as to protect the presidential government system.” As a matter of fact, it is inevitable that MHP, which will not present candidates in İstanbul, Ankara and İzmir, will receive favours from AKP in return. The reciprocity in the AKP-MHP bloc underlies how vital the local elections are for the alliance.

WILL THE CHP-IYI PARTI BLOC HAVE JOINT CANDIDATES?

Though talks between CHP and IYI Parti have not yet been concluded, it is believed that they may act as partners with the intent of defeating AKP especially in big cities like Istanbul and Ankara. In case these two parties come up with joint candidates in the cities mentioned, HDP’s votes will play a more critical role. These metropolitan candidates ought to have a profile appealing to HDP grassroots so that they can have a chance of winning against the AKP-MHP bloc. Therefore, HDP’s stance promises to be much more crucial.

HDP FORMULATES ITS STRATEGY IN 40 PROVINCES

HDP candidacy applications got under way on November 22 and will continue until December 5. Candidacies, which will be submitted to the local offices and the party headquarters, will be finalized by the Central Candidacy Designation Committee. However, in the party lobbies some names are already being bandied about. Such names to be nominated are previous MPs Süreyya Önder and Celal Doğan as well as Ahmet Türk, the dismissed Co-Mayor of Mardin Metropolitan Municipality, and Urfa MP Nimettullah Erdoğmuş.

HDP held meetings in 40 provinces between November 15-25, 2018 to discuss the strategies to be adopted in the local elections. The resolutions reached were discussed in detail in the Central Executive Committee meeting held on November 26, 2018.

HDP is preparing for the elections, focusing on two main goals. The first is to rewin the municipalities that had been replaced by appointed trustees in the State of Emergency and the municipalities that they had lost by a narrow margin in 2014; the second is to downgrade AKP as much as possible in the western part of Turkey. For these reasons, the elections on March 31 are not regarded by HDP merely as local elections but at the same time as a “test for democracy.”

COŞKUN: ‘MUNICIPAL SERVICES DO NOT COUNT’

In his statement to halagazeteciz.net, Vahap Coşkun, Assoc. Prof. at Faculty of Law, Dicle University, asserted that HDP will recover a great majority of municipalities that had been handed over to trustees in the region.

AKP nominated two of the trustee mayors in the region— Cuma Atilla in Diyarbakır and Cüneyt Epçim in Hakkari. Coşkun claimed that these nominations are “the kind of choices that are in line with AKP policies.” He further observed saying that “One of the main criticisms that AKP launched against HDP municipalities was that they failed to provide municipal services. In these two cities the trustees are directly nominated for the mayor on the grounds that they have been successful in providing municipal services and facilities. AKP believes that this is something the public will appreciate, which led to the nomination of the trustee mayors in these cities. Nevertheless the results of local elections are dependent on more than one factor. The most important factor in the region, however, is identity and representation.”

Saying that it is erroneous to interpret things based on one factor, that is, municipal services, Coşkun continued, “Elections cannot be grasped by means of the criterion of municipal services only. The most significant factor is still identity politics, or the value the voters attach to it.”

‘IT WILL IMPLY THE REFUSAL OF AKP POLICIES’

Coşkun is of the opinion that the present tableau will not change in the evening of March 31. “I do not think that the current situation will change substantially in the region. AKP and HDP are the only two major political parties in the region. And I assume that the elections will be a confrontation between these two parties. It may now be too early to predict how the tableau will change on March 31 but I think HDP will recover most of the municipalities where trustees had been appointed.” Coşkun also expressed his view that “This will be crucial because the result will also mean, so to speak, the refusal of the policies adopted by AKP.” Coşkun further commented, “It will be also substantial for AKP in terms of understanding to what extent the trustee policies have been approved. Furthermore, winning the elections again in these provinces is a matter of prestige for HDP.”

Adding that the attitude that HDP will adopt in provinces like Istanbul, Mersin and Adana will be decisive in the ballot box, Coşkun stated, “However, HDP’s political attitude will be influential in some western Turkish provinces. Istanbul, where HDP is the third biggest party, is the most important one. Adopting a stance in favour of a political actor will decide the result of the elections. Likewise, HDP has grassroots in Mersin and Adana that could have an impact on the elections. In all these provinces the local elections results will be neck and neck. These are the places that are densely populated by the Kurdish people. For that matter, HDP is in a position to determine the elections results.”

PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECT

Coşkun believes that the reason why AKP and MHP came together once again after the statement that there would be no alliance in the local elections was the search for alliance between CHP and IYI Parti.

For the first time, HDP established a platform that could form a wide alliance, bringing together Kurdish parties and organizations in the region in the forthcoming elections. This much-desired yet never fully attained meeting in the June 24 elections is expected to come true in the March 31 elections. Therefore, some representatives of these organizations may find a place as candidates in some provinces and districts. However, Coşkun thinks this meeting is not of kind that could usher in a serious change in the ballot box. Admitting this has mainly a “psychological effect” for the Kurds, Coşkun maintains, “There is not a huge electorate support involved. But there were requests that parties from all fractions should come together. This could lead, though, to a psychological relief, which in turn could lead to a more relaxed propaganda. It is unlikely that a serious variable could enter the scene.”

Translation: Fahri Öz