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Turkey's Local Elections: Erdogan's Miscalculation

Author: Steven A. Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
April 2, 2009
Middle East Bulletin

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The results of Turkey's local elections were a shock to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). Although the party secured almost 39 percent of the vote-16 points better than its closest competitor-and 42 mayoralties, those numbers represent an eight percent decline in popular support and a loss of 15 mayoralties. For a politician of great skill such as Erdoğan, this miscalculation is compounded by the fact that he called the elections a referendum on his leadership and his party. Indeed, in the run-up to the polls Erdoğan indicated that if AKP secured anything less than 47 percent of the vote, the party would consider it a failure. As a result, despite Justice and Development's still commanding leads at both the local and national levels, there is a sense that Erdoğan and his party are greatly weakened and have begun an inevitable, irreversible slide in popularity. To move forward, Erdoğan and Justice and Development need to get back to basics on the economy, particularly as the unemployment rate nears 15 percent, and political reform.

It is too early to pronounce AKP's demise, but these elections show that the 47 percent of the vote that the party garnered in the July 2007 national election was an inaccurate reflection of its actual public support. Erdoğan and his associates seem to have overlooked the political context of the 2007 poll, which came after the Turkish General Staff's effort to prevent then-Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul from becoming Turkey's president.

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