The Strategist

Erdogan loses Ankara

04/01/2019 - 14:49

On Sunday, local elections were held in Turkey. Inflation and unemployment are rising rapidly in the country and the lira is falling. Naturally, the second could not but affected the first. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was somehow disingenuous arguing that his Justice and Development Party (AKP) won at the local elections held on Sunday. For the first time in the 16 years, he lost control of the capital and it is possible, also over Istanbul and a number of other major cities.

rt_erdogan via flickr
rt_erdogan via flickr
In Ankara, a candidate from the ruling AKP won 47.3% of the vote, and a rival from the opposition Republican People’s Party (SNR), reports Anadolu, got 50.6%.

“Despite all the pressure,” declared its leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu after the polling stations closed at the capital’s headquarters in the capital, “the people chose democracy.”

Both parties claimed victory in Istanbul: after counting 98.8% of the ballots, AKP candidate, former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim scored 48.71% of the votes, and his SNP rival Ekrem Imamoglu - 48.65%.

AT the same time, even if Binali Yıldırım loses in Istanbul, President Erdogan, whose term of office ends in 2023, will retain enormous power in his hands. He will keep the parliament under control and remain the most popular politician in Turkey.

On the other hand, the results of the local elections are clearly a defeat of the ruling party. AKP, it seems, was defeated in the resort town of Antalya and the large industrial center of Adana.

In general, the ruling party, according to preliminary results, won in 40 of 81 Turkish provinces. This figure was significantly higher (53) in the previous elections in 2014. 

The loss of Ankara and a number of large cities can make it difficult for the ruling party to work with voters, especially the elderly and those in need, i.e. those who are completely dependent on the help of the authorities. In addition, the election results can give confidence to opponents of Erdogan.

“They (the election results) can destroy his (Erdogan's) aura of invincibility,” explains co-chairman of London-based consulting company Teneo Intelligence, Wolfango Piccoli.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan admitted the loss of several cities, explaining that Turkey is a democratic country and that this often happens in democratic countries. Speaking to the AKP supporters, he drew attention to the fact that now there would be no elections in Turkey until 2023, and he promised to concentrate his strength and attention on the economy, which two-digit inflation, rising unemployment and depreciating currency are not allowing the country to develop rapidly.

"Without abandoning the rules and laws of the free market," President promised at a rally in Istanbul on Sunday evening, "we will carefully pursue a strong economic program."

During the election campaign, Erdogan reported on completion of major infrastructure projects: commissioning of the 80-kilometer railway line in Istanbul and the huge theme park in Ankara, but these achievements did not help. In general, the economic situation in the country is very different now from 2017, when the Turkish economy developed the fastest in the G20. Construction sector, one of the main in the Turkish economy, lost about a third of the three million jobs last year. As for the currency, the Turkish lira seemed to come to life after the turmoil of the summer of 2018, but again began to fluctuate in March.

The government says that time is needed to reconfigure an economic model that relied too heavily on foreign loans and focused too much on construction and huge infrastructure projects.

Economists, by the way, praised the authorities for not resorting to populist measures on the eve of the elections, but warned that not enough attention is paid to the huge debts of the largest Turkish companies made during the industrial boom. Borrowings were made mainly in foreign currencies, so paying them and interest now became more difficult due to the weak lira. Debts of companies can be a very serious threat to the financial stability of Turkey, the Wall Street Journal believes, if the government does not join in solving this problem.

Many economists believe that help of the IMF would be very useful, but President Erdogan has repeatedly rejected this. He is confident that Turkey can cope with economic problems on its own.