Washington, D.C. — Today, ThinkProgress released an analysis of Sunday’s elections in Turkey from Center for American Progress experts on the ground in Ankara. After a hard fought electoral campaign and record turnout of over 50 million voters, not much has changed in Turkey. The campaign was defined by a bitterly partisan debate over press and internet censorship and a series of corruption probes implicating Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and the leadership of the governing AKP. The leader of the country’s conservative movement was able to secure over 44% of the vote with a divisive electoral approach which demonized his political opponents and took on increasingly sectarian undertones.
“Prime Minster Tayyip Erdoğan and his AKP proved their continued appeal to a large segment of Turkish society—mostly owed to their superior grassroots organization,” said Michael Werz, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, who was in Turkey for the elections. “To maintain this newly won legitimacy, the prime minister must now heal the massive divisions within society and shift away from his divisive campaign strategy. This includes fully reinstating press and Internet freedom and moving forward with the Kurdish peace process.”
The Republican People’s Party (CHP) once again demonstrated an inability to connect with young voters, minorities, and rural voters in Eastern Turkey, and ultimately fell short of the 30 percent goal it had set, out-organized by the winning party’s impressive voter-mobilization operation. The ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, which had polled more than 20 percent in some surveys shortly before the election, also fell well short of expectations.
But by and large, the elections seem to have met the required standards, although serious concerns have been raised in some cities, including Ankara, where controversial AKP Mayor Melih Gökçek currently holds a 25,000 vote lead—less than 1 percent—over his oponent Mansur Yavaş, who had been level in recent opinion polls. Suat Kınıklıoğlu, a former AKP MP who is now the campaign manager for CHP candidate Yavaş, has decried “extensive evidence that fraud, manipulation and interference in the counting process has occurred,” arguing that “the will of the people of Ankara has not been reflected in the outcome.”
The AKP’s mostly clean electoral victory has done little to ease the tension in Turkey, and all sides will now fight to define the popular mandate in advance of the August presidential elections—the first time Turks will vote in a truly national election. The defining question is now whether Prime Minister Erdoğan will continue to consolidate power by seeking the presidency, changing AKP bylaws to extend his ministry, or seeking to heal the country. While the opposition is today in disarray, Turkey’s economy faces a rough year, which could dramatically change the political calculus. Meanwhile, the international community will closely monitor the treatment of journalists and political opponents to judge if Turkey’s drift toward authoritarianism will continue.
Read the analysis: What’s Ahead For The Party That Just Won Turkey’s Elections by Michael Werz and Max Hoffman
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