A Big Weekend For Turkey


Tim Arango and Ceylan Yeginsu discuss what’s at stake for Turkish voters:

The nationwide municipal elections on Sunday, the first time Turks will vote since last summer’s antigovernment demonstrations, are seen as both a referendum on Mr. Erdogan’s tenure and a test of his support as he struggles to survive the corruption scandal with authoritarian countermeasures, including purges of the police and the judiciary; a crackdown on the press; and a new law that gives the government more control over the courts and blocks access to Twitter and YouTube, where most of the damaging leaks have first appeared.

The outcome of the elections could determine Mr. Erdogan’s political future. While many analysts, as well as polling data, predict that the AKP. will win a plurality nationwide, the percentage is most important. Anything substantially less than 40 percent – roughly what the party won in the last local elections, in 2009 – would be considered weak. The effects could intensify dissatisfaction within the party toward Mr. Erdogan that could ultimately lead to his exit from politics. A strong showing, though, could embolden Mr. Erdogan to seek the presidency in an election later this year or, alternatively, seek to alter his party’s term-limit rules and run for a fourth term as prime minister.

Oray Egin explains why the ruling AKP appears to be doing well:

One reason is the ruling government’s relatively liberal attitude toward aid. One of the landmark features of the AKP’s local governing system is the party’s continuous offer of free gas, coal, provisions and even financial aid to voters in rural areas. “They’ve first made the people poorer and now dependent on government aid,” says Mustafa Sarıgül, the opposition party’s mayoral candidate in Istanbul. “They’re using scare tactics and spreading false rumors that we’ll cut their aid. Their campaign budget is 1.5 billion dollars.”

Another reason is that for less well-off voters, corruption just doesn’t rank as a primary issue. “Poorer voters,” posits Bülent Gültekin, former governor of Turkey’s Central Bank and now a professor of finance at Wharton, “don’t regard corruption allegations as sin.” Corruption, he says, “always existed in Turkey, especially in local governments.” But Erdogan, he allows, “made it more organized.”

A Kadir Yildirim details the opposition strategy:

The AKP’s infatuation with its successive electoral victories and popularity has created an aura of invincibility and infallibility. It is this feeling of invincibility that must be brought down first, if judicial accountability is to materialise at all. Hence, the opposition’s primary goal is to hold the AKP democratically accountable. Yet, chronically weak opposition parties like the center-left CHP (Republican People’s Party) and the nationalist MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) offer little hope in the way of taking on the seemingly invincible AKP.

The opposition has devised an original solution to this apparent conundrum: strategic voting. Voters in each locality would support the strongest non-AKP candidate in the hope of defeating the AKP in most municipalities.

Michael Koplow considers what would happen if the AKP falters:

Should Erdogan and the AKP do worse than expected, and somehow lose Istanbul – which to them is the worst possible thing that could happen given its symbolic importance to the AKP, its role as a political bellwether for the rest of the country, and Erdogan’s view of the city as his own personal fiefdom – they will not take it as a humbling warning. They will go into panic mode, and lash out at everything and anything. Expect to hear claims of election fraud, efforts to obstruct AKP voters, and Gülenist plots. Social media will become an even bigger target, protestors will be dealt with even more harshly, and Turkish cities will become even more frequent sites of confrontations between police and civilians. The hyper nationalist rhetoric will get turned up, and I wouldn’t even put it past the realm of possibility that Erdogan would seek to create a distraction, such as military escalation with Syria, to change the subject and try to regain his footing.

Dan Berman believes “the worst is yet to come”:

For Turkey is not just on the verge of elections; it is also on the verge of major civil unrest, unrest that promises to have serious geopolitical consequences, as well as domestic ones in Europe and America. And Erdogan has done more than anyone else to provoke the current climate. If the local elections next week, which will be the electorates first real chance to pass judgement on Erdogan’s recent actions, are close, or wracked with fraud, it is almost certain that mass protest will break out, and past experience indicates that Erdogan and his government will not refrain from using deadly force against them. And given that the opposition are already warning of fraud, and the government indicating it may not recognize an defeat, a clash seems almost certain.

Meanwhile, Victoria Turk notes that YouTube, in addition to Twitter, is now blocked in Turkey:

The video site went down just hours after an anonymous Youtube account posted an audio recording of what they alleged was Turkey’s intelligence chief discussing military operations in Syria with other high-ranking officials. Reuters said they were unable to authenticate the recording but said it was “potentially the most damaging purported leak so far as it appeared to have originated from the bugging of a highly confidential and sensitive conversation.”

Zeynep Tufekci analyzes Erdogan’s social media “strategy”

This is what Erdogan is now doing to social media: portray it as a place from which only ugly things come from, and which poses a danger to family and to unity. … [T]he content is not blockable, and this is quite obvious to the Turkish government which has many technologically competent people, including the minister of foreign affairs who was a frequent twitter user and I have once watched discuss the power of social media with “Arab Spring” youth where it was clear he knew what he was talking about (and quite smooth about it). These blocks are meant to demonize social media content, and dissuade Erdogan supporters from seeking them, knowing what to seek, and being motivated to seek.

(Photo: A picture representing a mugshot of the twitter bird is seen on a smart phone with a Turkish flag on March 26, 2014 in Istanbul. By Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images)