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The 2014 Local Elections in Turkey: A Victory for Identity Politics

The context of and the meaning conferred upon the local elections led it to be fought in a referandum-like atmosphere. Prior to the March 30 local elections, various scenarios put forward both for the governing AK Party and the opposition parties, which largely remained unfulfilled on the elections day. As the local elections is over, a sound analysis of the election’s context, results, and possible implications is warranted. Despite the rapid and dramatic transformation that Turkey has undergone over the last decade, particularly since 2007, no such dramatic shift in the voters’ behaviors has occurred. This article argues that this is because of the dominance of the identity-politics, over all other issues, that shaped the content and context of the elections. It further claims insofar as this dominance continues to prevail over other concerns in the elections, no major change should be expected in the voters’ inclinations and behaviors.

The 2014 Local Elections in Turkey A Victory for Identity
Supporters of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) wave Turkish flags during a campaign meeting. AA / Ekber Türkoğlu
 

The 2014 local elections in Turkey marked a historic event with repercussions that went far beyond mayoral races and municipal assembly seats, as the vote closely resembled national elections and practically served as the first round of the upcoming presidential race in August 2014. Never in modern Turkish history had an election season been so prone to tensions and aggressive campaigns. Typically, the country’s overly centralized administrative structure would result in an overall lack of interest in local elections, which primarily serve as large-scale projections for parliamentary elections. As such, local races hint at popular sentiments and political inclinations among voters. In recent decades, at least two local elections were particularly remarkable for signaling nationwide trends: the 1989 election results indicated that the Motherland Party (ANAP), which had been in government for six years, was beginning to lose some of its popular support; and the 1994 local elections which, in contrast, established that the Welfare Party (Refah) could appeal to an ever-larger group of voters. Just as the local ballots suggested, ANAP lost power in 1991 and Refah became a coalition partner in the 1995 parliamentary elections.1

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