Not much will change. Contrary to the hype and commotion surrounding the upcoming local elections, I predict that we will see little change in the structural political balance.
We will hear about this person becoming a candidate for City X or another running in City Y in the coming months. There will be a lot of hype around Mustafa Sarıgül's candidacy, but most likely the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) will win the İstanbul mayoral election. Barring any strategic coalition-building between the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and the Republican People's Party (CHP), I see little possibility that the AK Party will lose in İstanbul. Ankara is a more unpredictable case but much will depend on who the ruling party puts forward as its candidate. One hears conflicting things, but it seems Melih Gökçek's candidacy is still unconfirmed despite his dramatic gestures since the Gezi Park protests. İzmir is destined to be run by a CHP mayor again.
When writing about the local elections, perhaps a little bit of perspective is due. Tens of thousands of people are currently courting party headquarters with the hope of becoming an official candidate for mayor or a seat on the municipal councils. I experienced this process in 2009. It is not a process any of the political parties or deputies are particularly looking forward to. Tens of thousands of applicants are swarming the parties in order to become “the candidate.” Party officials will be under immense pressure until the official announcements of the candidates are made. As local governance is where concrete interests are directly affected, fierce intraparty battles and positioning take place. This is a strenuous process for parties, party officials and the candidates involved. All sorts of smear campaigns, badmouthing and brownnosing are the order of the day. Also, do not underestimate the 53,000 mukhtars (village headman) our people will elect; 36,000 of those are in Turkey's villages, while the remaining 17,000 are in the cities. This country has seen people killing each other over mukhtar elections.
Yet in my view the present political balance will not change very much. The Turkish opposition parties remain locked into their narrow positions. As prominent pollster Bekir Ağırdır recently wrote for T24, all three opposition parties are trapped in their respective demographic, geographic, cultural and lifestyle clusters. Identity politics and the ongoing polarization do not bode well for the meaningful renewal that all of them seem to desperately need. A quarter of the electorate is likely to vote strategically in the upcoming local election. In other words, they will not necessarily vote for the party they support, but to prevent the party they despise the most from winning. We also see increasing unhappiness with the current parties' visions, human capital and quality of discourse. The People's Democracy Party (HDP) experience has been the only attempt by the BDP to break this deadlock, but it remains to be seen how this will play out.
All Turkish parties are in need of a serious renewal. Their current structures, human capital and political discourse are far from resonating positively among the electorate. None of them has been able to capture the new urban spirit, the desire to take part in the governance of our cities, the strong objection to further “cementization” or the new urban sensitivities that have emerged.
The possibility for change in our national politics will emerge after the local election. The results in the municipal council elections will be a key factor in influencing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's roadmap for the presidential election. If Erdoğan chooses to run for the presidency, the ruling party's leadership question will have to be settled as well. Erdoğan running for the presidency will mean a new prime minister in the interim. All of this is likely to precipitate changes and shifts within the AK Party. What sort of response, if any, that would bring about among the opposition parties is difficult to predict. However, one thing is certain: 2014 will be a very eventful year.