Turkey’s Erdoğan Claims an Election Victory: Is He Right?

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed a victory in Sunday’s municipal elections, in which his Justice and Development Party (AKP) appeared to have won the largest share of the nationwide vote for mayors and local government councils. 

The election is the first of three in the coming 15 months or less, that will have long-term implications for Turkey’s direction, Senior Fellow Sabine Freizer wrote from Istanbul late last week.

As the vote was counted Sunday night, the Atlantic Council’s Ross Wilson offered an early assessment of what the emerging results may mean. Wilson, a senior fellow with the council, served as the US ambassador to Turkey from 2005 to 2008. In recent years, he directed the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council. His responses to early questions on the vote are below.

Q. How would you evaluate the results of these elections?
A. The preliminary results seem to indicate that that AK Party continues to command a significant plurality of the Turkish electorate and that the opposition has yet to effectively to expand its base of support and put itself in a position to challenge the ruling party’s position.

Q. Do you think these results have weakened or strengthen Erdogan’s rule?
A. The municipal election results seem at first blush not to have weakened the prime minister or the ruling party, though its vote share was below what it obtained in the 2011 parliamentary voting. That may mean that the party is not strengthened particularly either. More importantly, the opposition parties seem to have made only limited progress toward connecting with new voters and to grow their support base.

Q. What were the factors behind this result?
A. These factors are difficult to assess from abroad. Broadly speaking, it appears that Turkish voters credit the AK Party for the economic growth, rising prosperity, and the relative confidence and stability that have marked the nearly twelve years of its rule, despite the apparent turmoil, turbulence and authoritarianism that have dominated the headlines for the past nine months.

Q. How would these results affect presidential elections?
A. Predictions are difficult.  Presumably the AK Party and Prime Minister Erdogan will assess both its and his political position, prospects, risks, and vulnerabilities before reaching conclusions on competing in the presidential voting.

Q. What will be the next in Turkish politics?
A. The municipal elections clearly are a turning point, but they are only the first of three elections. The March 30 elections clearly have importance for local governance, but their national significance lies more in the signals that voters have sent and the momentum that the parties will carry to the next two elections. Those later elections have, of course, greater practical implications – their stakes are higher, and it seems at least from the outside that the turbulence, uncertainty and even instability that have been evident in Turkey in recent months will continue and perhaps worsen.

Related Experts: Ross Wilson

Image: Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters with his family members in Ankara March 31, 2014. REUTERS/Umit Bektas