03/30/2009, 00.00
TURKEY
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Erdogan wins elections, but his party loses votes

by Geries Othman
The AKP keeps its hold on the big cities of Istanbul and Ankara, but ultranationalists linked to the Grey Wolves gain. Kurds remain loyal to the DTP. Election violence leaves six people dead and about a hundred wounded. The government must now deal with the economic crisis and cope with European accession.
Ankara (AsiaNews) – Although election results were as predicted, ballot counting in local elections left everyone on the edge of their seats till 2 am after some 35 million eligible voters cast their ballot in Sunday's elections for mayors and other local representatives in 81 provinces. The mandate of the newly elected municipal leaders is five years.

The two largest parties were competitive in mayoralty races in the country’s two major urban centres of Istanbul and Ankara, but in the end the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) edged out the Republican People's Party (CHP) for the top job.

Nationalist parties gaining

The prime minister is hot happy by the results, and with good reason. “This is a message from the people and we will take the necessary lessons,” said Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

Despite all his best efforts during the election campaign his party lost votes and even if it remain the largest party in the country.

A year and half ago the AKP won 47 per cent of the vote in the presidential election. For the first time in four elections since 2002, when it ran the first time, the AKP lost votes. It now stands at 39 per cent, facing a reinvigorated CHP at 23 per cent (4 per cent more than in 2007) and—this is more troubling—the National Movement Party (MHP), an ultranationalist party linked to the Grey Wolves, which gained at 16.6 per cent of the vote, double what it won five years ago.

The same parties have held onto their positions in the big cities. The CHP failed to retake the Mayor’s Office in Istanbul, which it lost 15 years ago to its main challenger of the time, the Welfare Party (Refah), an Islamist party whose mayoral candidate was none other than current Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. The main opposition party also lost Ankara, the capital, for the fourth consecutive time, and this despite the fact that the current mayor, Melih Gokcek of the AKP, was implicated in various scandals that came to light during the elections.

Elsewhere the AKP fared poorly. In Izmir, it failed to defeat the CHP which won 56 per cent of the vote. In Kurdish Diyarbakir the Democratic Society Party (DTP) confirmed its hold with 65 per cent of the vote. The AKP even lost Antalya, Manisa and Van. In eastern Turkey the DTP also won a landslide in Tunceli.

A national newspaper, Vatan, noted with a touch of irony how a pre-election gift of refrigerators did not sway voters who took the appliances but still voted for the locally-based party. As much as the prime minister tried to court Kurds, he had little success in spite of the aforementioned “social assistance”, leaving many observers wondering whether anything could have been done.

In fact despite the AKP’s best campaign efforts (most of its election rallies were held in eastern Turkey) and the government’s measures in favour of the Kurdish minority (15 million out of a population of 70 millions) like the inauguration of the first state-run Kurdish-language TV station or the decision by the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) to re-issue a Kurdish edition of the Qu’ran, banned in 1991, not much of it paid off.

Erdogan told the press that, irrespective of the outcome of the elections, democracy won. Indeed turnout was high but the process was not without tensions and violence. Six people killed and about a hundred were hurt.

One mayoralty candidate in the village of Akziyaret, in the south-eastern province of Sanliurfa was shot to death by supporters of his main rival. Another 12 people were wounded in the incident.

Some 15 people were hurt in the town of Suruc, also in Sanliurfa province, when supporters of rival candidates shot at each other.

Two people were killed and another ten were hurt in Lice district in the south-eastern province of Diyarbakir.

Failure, Europe and the IMF

In an interview two days ago, Erdogan said that if his party did not win at least 47 per cent of the vote as it did in the 2007 parliamentary election he would consider the outcome a failure. Now with 39 per cent of the vote he must pull up his sleeves and go back to work. He still has the power to govern but has lost much of the bravado he exhibited hitherto.

The prime minister has new challenges and deadlines to meet. First on his agenda are democratic and social reforms the European Union has been waiting for in order to accede to Turkey’s demand for membership. Also a priority are negotiations with the International Monetary Funds (IMF), which had been recently put on hold to prevent the conditions set by the IMF (cuts in local spending, greater rigour in public accounts and greater emphasis on fighting tax evasion) from influencing the outcome of the elections. 

Given the crisis affecting world markets and which did not spare Turkey now faced with higher government debt and unemployment, the prime minister cannot wait much longer to apply for a US$ 25 billion IMF loan to help the country overcome the current difficult situation and thus instil confidence in investors and jumpstart the economy.

Election rallies are over, now it is time for facts.

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