Explaining the 2014 Turkish Local Elections (II)

The failure of opposition parties despite political scandals against AKP

Giving the difficulty of establishing a political party in a matter of months, let us also ponder upon the existing opposition parties and why they have failed once more to win a substantial number of new municipalities against the AKP. My diagnosis is simple: They fail to set an alternative agenda and to convince voters that they are a viable alternative to the ruling AKP.

Yet, instead of picking up on the Gezi agenda and putting it at the center stage of local elections, they fell prey to their age-old strategy of letting AKP, or rather Prime Minister Erdoğan, set the agenda, and react to it. Their strategies were further hampered when the political agenda was totally shaken on 17 December 2013, by a series of corruption cases against figures close to the governing party, including sons of influential ministers and Erdoğan himself. What followed was a total political and institutional chaos.

As the Turkish public was watching the legal and illegal evidence against Erdoğan and his collaborators on the internet, the political system of Turkey became unveiled. It became clear that it was not only Erdoğan’s public performance that increasingly resembled an authoritarian father figure: He was running the whole country as the boss. This struck me the most while listening to these recordings – It seemed that there was no institution or detail that escaped his attention and control. His collaborators all sounded like they obeyed him in fear.

However, Erdoğan has even managed to be the master of these scandalous revelations. He did not deny these records but turned them as a conspiracy against him. As he was travelling throughout Turkey to win support for the local elections, he maintained his image and control whilst introducing authoritarian measures to firm his grip, through changes to the legal system and further limitations on freedom of expression.

As the events unfolded, the main opposition party, CHP (Republican People’s Party), turned its campaign into an anti-Erdoğan rally. The election results have shown, however, that this anti-campaign is insufficient to attract more votes. Erdoğan has won despite all allegations of fraud and mismanagement. Where CHP has won, it is thanks to the fact that voters wanted to get rid of AKP reign and not necessarily because they trusted that CHP offered better alternatives. The opposition party has failed once more and big time. The real victim, however, is the belief and trust in Turkey’s democracy, institutions, and the rule of law.


  1. Basak

    Definetely, AKP should have lost considerably more votes. I believe some still keep voting AKP because they do not find any alternative parties/candidates either. There is no way that conservative AKP voters will be voting for CHP or any left party… An alternative entity should have been formed from within AKP. I see that as the only way to weaken AKP. I had hoped that the scandals of the last weeks would initiate some crackling in the party but it was not the case! I take my hat off to Erdogan for his success in putting himself as a victim of conspiracies and keeping control of his party and crowds..

  2. Semin Suvarierol

    I know it was other times, but Ecevit did manage to speak to the “conservative” voters with his promise of a “New System”. When I analyze his success (or that of Obama, for example), I conclude that people vote for those who gives them confidence to bring about change. The irony of the matter is that AKP is also not much of a reform party anymore, yet still more than CHP&MHP.

  3. asjkin

    I have a different view. What you seem to neglect is that 90% of voters don’t really care about politics, are mostly unaware of what they vote, and therefore choose that what ‘springs to mind’ first. It is the same mechanism which makes commercials work.

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