Spotlight: Alliances, denunciation of opposition mark Turkey's local polls

Source: Xinhua| 2019-03-17 18:07:47|Editor: Yang Yi
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ISTANBUL, March 17 (Xinhua) -- Amid signs of decreasing support for Turkey's ruling party, the election campaign for the upcoming local elections is marked by alliances, denunciation of the opposition and the prominence of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey is scheduled to have municipal elections on March 31, in which the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) may lose some big cities amid a bleaker economic picture, according to polls.

The Islamist AKP, in power since 2002, has held so far a majority of the mayoral posts around the country including Ankara, the capital, and Istanbul, the biggest city with a population of 15 million.

However, many polls indicate that the ruling party may lose the capital to the opposition while there is a neck-and-neck race for Istanbul.

Featuring in the elections is the alliances formed by the political parties in a bid to win a bigger number of cities.

In this new political picture, which is also linked with Turkey's switch to the executive presidency last year, the AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) alliance is essentially competing against the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and its partner, the Good Party.

Each camp has nominated joint candidates in a good number of cities around the country with a view to winning a bigger number of mayoral posts.

The campaign strategy of the AKP-MHP alliance is mainly based on the demonization of the rival camp, and on the argument that the country is faced with an existential threat while the opposition is cooperating with the nation's enemies.

For its part, the CHP-Good Party alliance is highlighting the worsening economic situation to win over voters.

"I've never seen an election campaign in which the opposition has so much been alienated, subjected to hate speech by a ruling party," Gokhan Capoglu, chairman of the Ankara-based Anatolian Strategic Research Foundation, told Xinhua.

The voters do not buy the argument that Turkey is faced with an existential threat, Ozer Sencar, head of the Metropoll polling company, told Xinhua.

It is for this reason that accusing the opposition of cooperating with terror groups has become a more prominent feature of the ruling party alliance, said Sencar.

He feels that this discourse may help increase the alliance's votes in some cities where a large majority of the population has strong feelings against the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The HDP is widely seen as being affiliated with the PKK which has been fighting for an autonomous, if not independent, Kurdistan in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast.

Erdogan, who is also the AKP chairman, has often described the opposition as an "ignoble alliance" supported by terrorist organizations.

The AKP-MHP alliance is not serving the interests of the PKK and the Fethullah Gulenist organization as opposed to what the main opposition CHP is doing to get more votes, the president said.

Ankara sees both the PKK and the group led by Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Turkish cleric blamed for a failed coup in Turkey in July 2016, as terror groups.

Maintaining that the HDP and the Islamist Felicity Party are also part of the opposition alliance, Erdogan said, "this quadruple gang has joined forces against the People's Alliance."

The People's Alliance is the name for the AKP-MHP camp, while the CHP-Good Party camp is called the Nation Alliance.

It seems that the AKP's heavily alienating discourse will play into the opposition's hands, argued Capoglu.

Some CHP supporters who were planning to boycott the polls to punish the party leadership for its earlier failures will, it appears, cast their votes in reaction to the verbal attacks on the opposition, he said.

The HDP did not nominate mayoral candidates for some major cities where it enjoys a significant voter support, such as Istanbul and the southern cities of Adana, Mersin and Hatay.

A majority of the HDP voters in these cities is expected to vote for the CHP candidates, a scenario that may well tilt the balance in favor of the Nation Alliance.

"I feel the economic crisis will negatively affect the ruling party votes in many big cities," said Sencar.

Amid signs of a worsening economic crisis, the Turkish economy shrank by 3 percent in the last quarter of 2018 year-on-year and the rate of unemployment hit a record high of 13.5 percent in December.

The ruling party will most probably lose many of the big cities to the opposition, Capoglu said, arguing the economic situation will play a decisive role in the elections.

Equally distinctive is Erdogan's hard campaign for the ruling party, seen by some as an indication of the polls not as good as expected for the AKP's candidates.

It is as if Erdogan himself is running for mayor as the AKP candidate at all the places, Sencar said, noting the president has been personally conducting the AKP election campaign.

According to local media, Erdogan, who had only four rallies in Istanbul and two in Ankara in the 2014 local elections, has so far held rallies in eight different districts of both Istanbul and Ankara.

In addition, he made speeches at seven rallies or ceremonies in Istanbul, and has been touring other cities to address voters.

In contrast to his party's past attitude toward polls, Erdogan said during this election campaign that he no longer trusts public survey results by polling companies.

"If Erdogan, who always trusted polls in the past 17 years, is saying that, it means the polls are not promising for the AKP," argued Capoglu.

In his view, Erdogan may be forced to call snap general elections if the AKP loses in most big cities including Istanbul and Ankara.

"It would be very difficult for the ruling party to continue to govern in such a case," he said.

"Given the prominent role Erdogan has in the election campaign, a major defeat would mean voters' loss of confidence in Erdogan," he added.

In contrast, Sencar does not expect the AKP to suffer so big a defeat as to force Erdogan to call for snap polls.

Noting it is not unusual for parties in power in Turkey to lose votes in local elections, he said the voter support for the AKP may simply drop a bit more sharply this time.

"The People's Alliance holds the majority in parliament," he noted.