Every set of local/regional elections in Turkey that I can recall has taken place in an atmosphere similar to general elections.
In this sense, everything in these elections tends to be overshadowed by the rivalries between party leaders. This includes projects intended for local administrations and the candidates themselves. The upcoming March 30 local elections seem more like “general elections” in terms of atmosphere compared to any other to date; the meaning and importance attached to them is greater than any local elections thus far.
No doubt it is quite natural for the local elections to be seen by many as a sort of dress rehearsal for the general elections. For this reason, it is also quite natural that political parties involved in the elections use this period not only as an opportunity to air their views about local administrations, but also about the country's general political situation. Again though, the upcoming March 30 elections still stand out as being different from past local elections.
The Dec. 17 corruption and bribery investigation has shaken Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's balances. Rather than trying to acquit himself of increasingly serious charges via the justice system and the law, the prime minister has chosen to use state tools to essentially destroy institutions and concepts connected to justice, the law and general ethics. In the meantime, he has also disrupted the balances in the state and the society. The prime minister has thus badly misused and exploited not only the fact that he is in power, but the support of the people who truly believed in him.
In fact, Erdoğan has turned the March 30 local elections into a sort of referendum that will ultimately affirm his own version on authoritarian rule. They are, in short, not just local elections, but rather a “struggle for independence and the future.”
In this way, if Erdoğan and his party in fact receive the results they are hoping for from the March 30 elections, they will assert that their style of authoritarian rule has been approved by the people of the country. What will this then lead them to do?
The answer to this question has already been supplied by Erdoğan during election rallies. For example, it is clear that his aim of destroying the Hizmet movement, which supported him with hope and excitement up until very recently, will continue with reckless abandon. In talking about his leadership as being “the law,” in talking about “democracy” and “rights and freedoms,” Erdoğan will “reckon with” those who dare criticize him. And he will continue to attack those who do not profess complete allegiance to him; this includes media groups, civil society organizations, journalists and writers, the business world... Any segment of society that does not offer its support to him. These are not just my personal conjectures or observations; Prime Minister Erdoğan himself has essentially confirmed this during his campaign speeches in city squares throughout Turkey. He affirmed that “after March 30, they will see; we will reckon with them all.” In other words, he has literally arrived at the point where he no longer feels the need to hide his true intentions. His spiritual state is quite angry and, truthfully, even dangerous.
So what will he do if he does not achieve the result he is hoping for, which he desires, from these upcoming elections?
Prime Minister Erdoğan prefers not to comment on this possibility. His only assertion on this front has been the ambiguous comment: “If we do not emerge as the top party, I will resign.” But, for example, he has not made any declarations about what he will do if his party loses the elections in Ankara and İstanbul, places to which we know how much importance he attaches.
So we know what he will do if his party wins. But we need to analyze what he will do if he loses.
If the number of votes for the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) falls under 40 percent and if it loses the elections in İstanbul and Ankara in particular, the party will descend into some chaos.
Those who have remained fairly silent thus far as they watch Erdoğan's struggle for “favor” will begin to criticize and question Erdoğan's leadership and his party's manner of rule. People will begin breaking away from the party. And Erdoğan's own dream of becoming president will fade. Turkey will find opportunities to re-create the political and societal balances that have been disrupted. It will find opportunities to heal its wounds. A new chance for political and social consensus based on values of democracy, freedom and justice will arise. Of course, one should not expect Erdoğan's resistance to be immediately broken.
My personal wish is that in the wake of March 30, Turkey will be able to quickly bring its wounded democracy back to life.