Turkey's AKP starts evaluation process after huge blow in local elections

Turkey’s ruling AKP, which lost its several strongholds as well as its position as the leading party in the municipal elections, has started a comprehensive evaluation process. The party will first analyze the results, and then start a change process, AKP sources said.

Election banners of President Erdoğan and AKP Istanbul mayoral candidate Murat Kurum wave beside a Turkish national flag and the statue of modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, March 29. (Reuters)

Nergis Demirkaya / DUVAR

The March 31st local elections have suffered a huge blow to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The AKP has been able to only win in 24 provincial municipalities, dropping from 39, out of 81.

Moreover, the party has lost its position as the leading party to its rival Republican People’s Party (CHP) for the first time in its history. A comprehensive evaluation process has begun within the party after the defeat.

While a preliminary evaluation was made at the first Central Executive Board (MYK) meeting after the elections, the party will establish commissions to analyze the results in detail, province by province, region by region, and to determine the causes of the losses. 

According to the AKP sources, all units from the social policies department to the local administrations department will prepare their reports on their fields. In addition, 5-6 new commissions will be established to analyze all aspects of the election results in detail.

An AKP official stated that they will analyze the mistakes, deficiencies, and solution proposals regarding the highest and lowest organs of the party. "This cannot be covered up. There will be a very good accounting. The President (Erdoğan) has also asked for meticulous work to be done," the official said.

There have been claims that the AKP’s MYK and Cabinet members will be reshuffled due to the defeat in the local elections. However, party executives do not think that this change will be made very quickly. The executives reminded that President Erdoğan has the authority to change both the Cabinet and the MYK. 

The executives said, “It has not been long since the extraordinary congress. We will start the ordinary congress process in the summer with the election of neighborhood delegates. This process will proceed on its own schedule. In the meantime, a change in the MYK may be considered, but not immediately, it will take time.”

According to AKP executives, the reasons for the March 31 election results will be revealed with detailed analyses of the commissions, but the following issues stand out in the preliminary evaluations.

There is not a single reason for the electoral defeat

Economic problems and candidate preferences are said to have played a role in the AKP’s first electoral defeat in its 22 years in power, which made it the second party after the CHP. AKP officials, on the other hand, said that this interpretation is a "cliche" and there are dozens of reasons for the losses, not just one and that all of them should be identified. In the evaluations to be made province by province, district by district; pensioners, infrastructure problems, the candidates, and the agricultural policies may be revealed to be effective in different places.

The lower turnout

In the March 31 local elections, the turnout rate dropped by 10 percent compared to the May general and presidential elections. AKP officials stated that most of the voters who did not go to the polls were their own voters. "Some of our angry voters did not go to the polls because they could not vote for a party other than the AK Party. Some also went but cast blank ballots. This had a serious impact on the result."

The competition between the AKP and the MHP

The ruling People's Alliance, mainly the AKP and the MHP, cooperated in 30 metropolitan cities and 29 provinces in the local elections, while AKP and MHP candidates competed in 22 provinces. Among the provinces where the two parties competed, CHP won in Afyon, Amasya, Kastamonu, Kırıkkale, Kilis, Kütahya, Uşak, whereas New Welfare Party (YRP) won in Yozgat, İYİ (Good) Party won in Nevşehir and Great Unity Party (BBP) won in Sivas. 

Party officials think that mistakes may have been made in the cooperation decisions regarding these provinces in the defeat of the AKP, or that the problems during the campaign process might have led to it. They said, "The right observations may not have been made in the alliance. It would have been necessary to compete in places where there was no possibility of the CHP getting out of the way."

Not macro but micro-projects had an impact

Major central government projects such as roads, bridges, airports, and defense industry products were also used in the campaign period, with the expectation that they could increase the votes. However, it did not happen. An AKP executive said, "You build big projects, but if people can't cross that big bridge because fuel is expensive, if they can't use that high-speed train because they can't afford it, it doesn't pay off. A lot of services can be done in the macro sense, but at the micro level, there should be services that help people's economies and themselves. It seems that the voters' decision was influenced not only by big projects but also by micro-projects that help them." This comment brought to mind the restaurants opened by the opposition-run Istanbul Municipality.

The opinion evolved in the last week

There is a prevailing view in the AKP that voters' opinions have changed in the last week. This change in attitude is attributed to the failure to fulfill the expectations of good news about pensioners at Erdoğan’s Ankara and Istanbul rallies. The party officials think that voters who changed their opinion in the last week either did not go to the polls or voted for another party in reaction.

The problems in the AKP organizations 

Within the AKP, problems in the party organizations are cited as another reason for the electoral defeat. The problems between the candidate and the provincial and district organizations, the lack of harmony, the failure of the mayors- who were not nominated- to campaign, and even the attitudes of the mayors that were detrimental to the campaign led to the loss.

The concern of votes going to the opposition might be permanent 

Both AKP and CHP officials point out that in many cities, especially Istanbul, where the CHP won, opposition voters united against the AKP and for the candidate who seemed to be in the lead. In addition, there is a shift from AKP and MHP voters. AKP officials are worried that voters who switched to the opposition parties may stay there permanently. "When voters start to gravitate to a certain place, some of them may stay there. This should be evaluated well and the right steps should be taken for the return of voters."

(English version by Alperen Şen)