Turkey’s local election results could be shaped by three small parties

With about a month to go before the local elections, the level of competition among candidates is increasing. Parties’ alliances or collaborations are largely finalized. The Supreme Electoral Council will announce the final candidate lists on March 3.

Attention is mostly focused on metropolitan cities such as Ankara and Istanbul, which were taken from the AKP in 2019, and provinces where the vote rates of the People’s Alliance and the opposition are close to each other and the election is expected to be neck and neck.

Small parties, which fell below a certain percentage in the last general election but have the potential to grow, are expected to be decisive in the results that may be close in Istanbul or some other provinces or districts this time. According to observers, the March 31 votes of these parties may shape the post-April 1 elections.

Which parties have the potential to influence the results of this local election?

According to public opinion researcher İbrahim Uslu, the three parties that can determine who will win in this election are the Yeniden Refah Partisi (YRP), Zafer Partisi (ZP) and Türkiye İşçi Partisi (TİP).

In the May 14 elections, the YRP received 2.8 percent of the vote, the Zafer Party 2.23 percent and the TİP 1.8 percent.

Uslu expects the TİP’s influence to be more limited as it fielded candidates in fewer places across the country, and that this influence will be in certain places such as Hatay and Ankara’s Çankaya district, while the YRP will play a more important role with its candidates all over Turkey.

In the May 14 parliamentary elections, the YRP was one of the surprise parties, winning more than 1.5 million votes and securing five seats in the Turkish parliament. The YRP entered the general elections as part of the People’s Alliance, but its talks with the AKP for local elections failed to yield results.

YRP will enter the elections on March 31 with a total of 617 mayoral candidates, including 30 metropolitan, 51 provincial, 456 district and 90 town municipalities.

Uslu said that the YRP has the potential to be more effective in the election with its candidates scattered all over Turkey and that it will receive more votes from the People’s Alliance, adding that on the other hand, the Zafer Party is also growing according to surveys.

“It would be wrong to make a prediction that these parties will definitely change the election results across Turkey. It would be healthier to talk on a constituency basis,” Uslu said, adding that the YRP is in a different position than the other two parties with its candidates distributed homogeneously across the country.

According to various polls, the votes of the YRP and the Zafer Party are around 5 points, while the votes of the TİP hover around 2-3 percent.

Political scientist Can Kakışım draws attention to the difference in the dynamics of general and local elections in relation to the vote rates of small parties:

“In local elections, since only one candidate wins and all others lose, voters may prefer to vote for the candidate with a high chance of winning so that their votes are not wasted. In the general election, despite knowing that they will get fewer votes, they may vote for ‘one of the 10 deputies should be from our party’. Therefore, small parties can get more votes in general elections.”

Kakışım also said that sometimes voters use local elections as a tool to send a message to the big parties, saying that an angry AKP voter can vote for YRP or an angry CHP voter can vote for TİP or İYİ Party, but he thinks that this will be rare in this election. For this reason, Kakışım expects that there will be a gathering around strong candidates in the run-up to the elections and that the votes of small parties will decrease a little more.

Where is the impact of small parties greater?

With the parliament closing in a few days, all MPs are expected to go to their districts to contest the elections and campaigns are expected to intensify in the last month, but the places where the votes of small parties can be more effective vary.

Uslu points out that the votes of these parties will not be important in some places like Konya, Kahramanmaraş, İzmir or Muğla where the outcome is already known and says, “In such places, the votes of small parties will affect the rates but will not change the result. But in competitive places like Ankara and Istanbul, for example, each of these parties can produce significant results.”

Istanbul is currently witnessing a race between Ekrem İmamoğlu, the Mayor of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, and Murat Kurum, the candidate of the People’s Alliance, in which the gap is not very wide according to the latest polls. Imamoğlu won the first election in 2019 with a difference of only 800,000 votes.

Kakışım says that the influence of YRP and ZP is important for Istanbul, reminding that Yeniden Refah (Re-Refah) currently has more votes in Istanbul than in Turkey as a whole, thanks to its rising momentum. Kakışım states that these parties are normally expected to receive lower votes in local elections than in general elections, but at the moment, if there were general elections, the YRP could reach 5-6 percent, therefore, he does not see it as a surprise that the YRP will reach 3-3.5 percent in Istanbul on March 31st.

Kakışım says that Azmi Karamahmutoğlu, the candidate of the ZP, of which Ümit Özdağ is the chairman, could garner the votes of some disgruntled nationalists or MHP supporters within the CHP, and that Karamahmutoğlu could get more votes than Buğra Kavuncu, the candidate of the İYİ Party.

Kakışım sees the YRP and ZP as having limited power to influence the voters in Istanbul or Ankara despite their voting potential, and explains this as follows:

“I think that the votes these parties will get will not be enough to change the picture in Istanbul and Ankara. Because there is no knife-edge situation. In Ankara, no one sees a risk for Mansur Yavaş, and in Istanbul, I actually think that İmamoğlu will receive favor from the AKP base with his actions and will not have any difficulties.”

Scenarios for April 1 and beyond

Political parties are also preparing for different scenarios that may emerge on April 1 and beyond.

Uslu says it would be misleading to make a standard interpretation for all parties, but the potential for small parties to rise at the moment is similar to some other examples around the world:

“In other countries, these parties first appeared in the polls. Then gradually we started to feel their presence in local and general elections. After a while, they started to win municipalities and enter parliament. Then they started to become a partner or an alternative to the government. I think a similar process is taking place in Turkey now.”

In these days when Erdoğan is said to want to transform the People’s Alliance into a “big right-wing alliance”, the future of small parties is also gaining importance.

Kakışım thinks that although small parties are unlikely to have a fundamental impact on the outcome of the local elections, they will be important in the politics after March 31st.

“I think these parties are critical in terms of showing that some important changes are coming in Turkish politics in the following period,” Kakışım said, adding that the YRP’s nomination of candidates is important in terms of breaking the synergy created by right-wing parties and destroying the perception of the “local and national bloc”. Kakışım adds that the AKP is “stuck” with the YRP, with which they share the same roots.

Uslu reminds that he had previously drawn attention to the possibility of forming a “political cartel” after March 31st for the People’s Alliance, which had regained 50 percent of the vote by winning Ankara and Istanbul, but explains how the YRP disrupted this game plan as follows:

“I had talked about a political cartel for the post-election period consisting of right-wing parties, some of whose members are from outside and some from inside. Now there are two obstacles to this picture. The first is that the YRP has broken away from the alliance. Currently, the People’s Alliance without the YRP has fallen below 50 percent. In fact, we can say that the People’s Alliance has cracked. Secondly, without the YRP, it seems difficult for the People’s Alliance to take Ankara and Istanbul. A People’s Alliance that fails to take these two cities and has a total vote share of just over 40 percent is less likely to form a cartel.”

14 The vote rates of parties such as the Future Party, DEVA and the Felicity Party, which entered the May 14 elections in support of the Millet Alliance but did not find what they hoped for, are not expected to affect the results in the local elections, but may be decisive for their road maps after the elections.

Uslu says that these parties will measure themselves a bit on March 31st, “If they get very low votes, their presence in the parliament may become problematic and controversial. Because having a very weak voter base and having a very strong group in parliament is not something that can happen at the same time.”

After April 1, the performance of these parties will also affect how politics will be shaped, Uslu says: “Maybe some parties will grow bigger, some parties will have very harsh internal debates, maybe some of them will merge. I mean, imagine 3-4 parties that received votes in the thousands; will they still continue to do politics with stubbornness or will they say let’s unite?” Uslu asks.

In the meantime, after April 1, it is possible that these parties will once again try to form a joint group in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, as the Future Party and the Felicity Party did in the past.

Translated from DW Türkçe