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Turkey’s political parties gear up for 2024 local elections

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As Turkey approaches the local elections set for March 31, 2024, Turkey’s political parties are intensifying their strategic maneuvers.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), have been finalizing their joint approach.

Amid speculation of a crisis within the People’s Alliance following President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s proposal to amend the 50+1 percent requirement for presidential elections, which was opposed by MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli, Erdoğan clarified that discussions with the MHP are continuing based on mutual understanding. This clarification came during Erdoğan’s address at the AKP parliamentary group meeting on Wednesday.

The local election strategies of the People’s Alliance involve both the AKP and the MHP first working within their respective parties before starting discussions on joint strategies. This approach is a departure from the 2019 local elections, with the alliance expected to expand its collaborations from major cities to a wider range of cities and districts. Key strategies include securing the control of municipal councils in major cities like Ankara and İstanbul. There was speculation of a possible rift within the alliance; however, the meeting between Erdoğan and Bahçeli on Wednesday, where they reportedly discussed candidate choices for Ankara and İstanbul, indicates a continued partnership, dispelling notions of significant discord within the alliance.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), under newly elected leader Özgür Özel, is exploring alliances, particularly with the nationalist opposition İYİ (Good) Party. This move comes after the disbanding of the Nation Alliance following the opposition’s defeat in the May elections, which also led to a change in CHP leadership from Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to Özel.

Since the May general election, the opposition’s focus has shifted to the upcoming local elections. The Nation Alliance’s poor performance in May led to significant tension within and between alliance members. This outcome prompted the CHP to undergo a substantial reorganization, while the İYİ Party, despite re-electing chairperson Meral Akşener, is still grappling with the repercussions of the election results as several lawmakers have resigned from the party in the past weeks.

In response to these developments, Özel and Akşener’s meeting on Thursday aimed to discuss potential collaboration in major cities like Ankara and İstanbul for the local elections. Their previous partnership in the 2019 local elections, which played a crucial role in winning these cities, serves as a backdrop to this dialogue.

Akşener said she is willing to reconsider the İYİ Party’s decision to run independently in every province and to discuss Özel’s proposal for collaboration.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democratic Party (HEDEP) renamed after the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) faced prospects of closure by the country’s top court, plans a significant strategy shift. Contrary to their approach in 2019, they intend to field candidates in major cities, potentially dividing the opposition vote.

This decision comes amid criticism of the party’s previous alignment with the CHP without tangible returns, as the government’s crackdown on the party continued unabated.

The HDP won eight provincial municipalities and 60 district and town municipalities in the local elections of 2019.

The AKP government has removed from office dozens of co-mayors from the HDP and appointed trustees since 2019, according to a report from the HDP. Some of the mayors were arrested, stood trial on terror-related charges and given lengthy jail sentences.

The AKP’s move to replace Kurdish mayors came after it suffered a significant blow in the local elections of 2019 by losing the mayoralties of three major cities — İstanbul, Ankara and İzmir — to opposition candidates.

The HDP stands accused of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), although the party strongly denies any ties. The PKK has waged a war against the Turkish state since 1984 and is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

The government of President Erdoğan has been trying to close down the HDP since March 2021 over its alleged ties to outlawed Kurdish militants.

President Erdoğan announced the slogan “Yeniden İstanbul” (Once Again İstanbul), highlighting the ruling party’s focus on reclaiming the major cities it lost in 2019, especially İstanbul. Incumbent İstanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, supported significantly by Kurdish voters in the 2019 elections, remains a strong contender. His election was a critical loss for the AKP, and they are keen on regaining this key city.

Polls suggest that a majority of Kurdish voters in İstanbul still favor İmamoğlu for the upcoming elections. The CHP, in its bid to retain control of the major cities won in 2019, such as Ankara and İstanbul, is preparing for an intense campaign. The party plans to select candidates based on public opinion polls and consultations with civil society and professional organizations.

Civil servants and government officials who want to run in the elections must resign by tomorrow, according to the rules of the Supreme Election Authority (YSK). However, this rule does not apply to current members of parliament, mayors, members of the provincial assembly and municipal council or village heads, who can run without resigning.

Among those speculated to be running in the local elections is Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya, who is rumored to be considering a run for mayor of İstanbul. His decision will become clear tomorrow.

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