by Daniella Kuzmanovic.
Local elections in Turkey, which were held on Sunday the 29th of March, brought about some interesting results and indications, also concerning the future national political landscape of Turkey. Many of these have already been scrutinized in detail by Turkish press, and I have no intention of repeating their insights in this comment. However, I did find one particular insight from political scientist Doğu Ergil regarding the current character of the centre-right in Turkey worth an additional comment, since it reveals one of the central problems in Turkish party politics today.
In his column ‘Lessons of the elections’ in Today’s Zaman on April 1 Ergil rightly points out that the results reflect how the AKP has become (or at least has become perceived as) a centre-right party. Hence, they stand out in the eyes of a segment of their voters as that which they have always themselves claimed to be, namely a conservative democratic party. Ergil’s analysis is backed by the observation that the right-wing nationalist party (MHP) and the conservative pro-Islamic party (SP) won back some of the more nationalist and religious conservative voters respectively from the AKP. In others words those voters further to the right went back to their roots. As furthermore rightly pointed out by Ergil, this shift must imply that the AKP now fine-tune their agenda in order to meet the expectations of the voters, which did vote for the AKP. Otherwise these votes may be lost by the next general election in 2011.
Centre-right has traditionally been significant in relation to Turkish national politics, since two thirds of Turkish voters have a tendency to vote for parties right of centre and on the far right. One naturally has to be careful with such terms as left and right of centre in Turkish politics. Here it does have some relevance, though. If one goes back to the 1990ies it created huge problems in national politics throughout the decade that the two dominant centre-right parties at the time, The right path party (DYP now DP) and the Motherland party (ANAP), were not able to cooperate, among other due to personal animosities between the respective leaders of the parties, Tansu Çiller and Mesut Yılmaz.
The two parties became hugely discredited throughout the 1990ies due to, among other, corruption and embezzlement charges, inability to carry out effective economic policies, personal animosities. The parties were among the biggest losers in the general election in 2002, when the AKP came to power. Neither DYP nor ANAP were able to pass the 10 percent threshold. Their loss was confirmed in the 2007 national election. The parties formed an election alliance in order to attract voters to the traditional centre-right, but received less than 6 percent of the votes, and were unable to enter parliament. The story of the success of the AKP is thus also the story of the decline of traditional centre-right parties.
This decline of the traditional centre-right was reaffirmed in the local elections yesterday as well. Looking at the results (http://secim2009.ntvmsnbc.com/default.htm) DP (former DYP) continued their downwards slide with regard to total number of voters (local election 2004: 9,97 %, national elections 2007: 5,42 %, local election 2009: 3,72 %). This was also the case for ANAP (local elections 2004: 2,5 %, local elections 2009: 0,76 %).
What does this then tell us, in addition to Ergil’s analysis of the shift towards MHP and SP and the consolidation of AKP as the new centre-right? As I see it, it reminds us that the Turkish voters simultaneously continue to concentrate around a limited number of dominant parties. This should come as no surprise given that the campaign budget and media exposure of parties outside parliament is limited. Never the less we should keep in mind that this voter concentration centers round the very parties, which have not only monopolized but also polarized Turkish political life throughout the past seven years.
One must hope that the level of political tension and polarization in Turkey lessens during the years to come, and that the current party in power seeks to contribute effectively to this. However, where are the centre-right voters to go if the AKP and the opposition parties do not? As seen from previous elections Turkish party politics is highly volatile. Large blocks of voters can, indeed, swing from one party to others in any given election. But with the current condition of the centre-right, and for that matter also the centre-left, in Turkey who are these voters to swing to when only currently four parties remain standing?
Turkey is, as the local elections unfortunately also revealed, still badly in need of new political parties, new political programs, and new politicians.