BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
As you already know, Turkey held its local elections, which happen once every five years, on March 31. As with much of politics, a simple, direct, answer to the question posed in the title of this piece does not exist.
Before proceeding, please understand that because of space limitations, I will simply refer to the Turkish parties by their acronyms, rather than first spelling out their names in full and providing the translations. If you want this level of detail and much more in the way of election results, please go to the web page prepared by Hurriyet, a major Turkish newspaper, and wikipedia.
There were many twists and turns. Early on, the pro-Kurdish HDP strategically decided NOT to run a candidate in certain cities to give the candidate put forth by the “Nation Alliance” of CHP and İYİ against Erdogan’s candidate a better chance of winning. This paid off handsomely in Ankara and Bolis (Constantinople/Istanbul) where the CHP candidate won, albeit with a very thin margin. Erdoğan is now pouting and attempting to flout the people’s will through various false or unfounded assertions of fraud. One such stratagem is his demand that certain ballots be invalidated even though exactly those types of ballots helped him win a few years ago.
Yet despite all the chaos, disruption, and electoral mistrust Erdoğan is creating for his own narrow political interests (much as he did in 2015 when he reignited the war against the Kurds and in the aftermath of the 2016 attempted coup), the “People’s Alliance” of his AKP and MHP (the most right wing of the major Turkish parties) actually got the largest share of the popular vote at 51.64%. Compare this to CHP/İYİ’s 37.57% and everyone else’s (nine named and more miniscule parties) 10.79%.
You might wonder what Erdoğan has to whine and complain about. He wasn’t running for office. It was not an election for parliament (the next one is scheduled for 2023) where his AKP still holds 291 of 600 seats and with support from allies has a comfortable majority of 341. And, his alliance won the most votes. What sticks in his craw is probably that the three largest cities Bolis, Ankara, and Smyrna (Izmir) went to his opposition. Those three are home to more than a quarter of the country’s population and Bolis is his former stronghold, where he started his political ascent as mayor in the 1990s. And, in Kurdish strongholds, the HDP made a strong showing and returned its members to mayoral offices where they had been removed under pretenses of supporting the “terrorist” PKK.
All this shows Erdoğan’s time in power may be coming to an end. Despite his tremendous political skill and acumen, the Turkish economy’s poor condition (probably worsened by the huge number refugees in the country from neighboring Syria where the mess is partially his responsibility) and Turkey’s current poor relations with many of its international “partners”, led people to turn away from him in these local elections.
Despite all this, I would not say “yes Erdoğan lost” because he is still in office, controls parliament, and has four years to patch things up before again having to face the electorate.
And what does all this mean for Armenians? Once again, there’s no clear answer. Depending on what his political sense of smell indicates, Erdoğan may return to the policies of the early years of his party’s time in power and liberalize. Or, he might continue the path of the last few years of pandering to the worst, most chauvinistic, and yes, even murderous and bloodthirsty, instincts within the Turkish polity. CHP is the party of Ataturk and has never been supportive of Armenian issues. İYİ, relatively new to the scene, occupies the same part of the political spectrum as CHP and is no Armenian-supporter.
Keep watching and supporting the HDP (including Garo Paylan) which is really the best hope for Turkey’s people and all the noncitizens of Turkey, including Armenians, upon whom Ankara has and will continue to have a major impact