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HomeHeadlineMarch 31 Elections: The Awakening of 1989 and Erdoğan's Strategic Shift

March 31 Elections: The Awakening of 1989 and Erdoğan’s Strategic Shift

M. Ahmet Karabay

Elections have always brought surprises in this country. For a while, it had lost this characteristic, but the March 31 elections regained it. The electorate at the polls said, “I am here again!” The spirit of 1989 was revived among the voters. The actual loser of the election, AK Party leader Tayyip Erdoğan, who sits in the Presidential seat, clearly laid out his strategy for the new era in his balcony speech.

There is so much to write that first, it’s beneficial to briefly remind what the “spirit of 1989” was. ANAP, led by Turgut Özal, who came to power on November 6, 1983, refreshed its mandate in the 1987 elections. However, with the power it received from the ballot box, ANAP, considering itself indispensable (which was considered very modest compared to today), indulged in extravagance. Following a period when some alarms were raised in the economy and bans on old politicians were lifted, local elections were held on March 26, 1989.

Bedrettin Dalan, the Mayor of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, saw his seat as guaranteed with the wind of the media in his sails and started to talk about what he would do in his second term instead of campaigning. However, the anger of the people towards ANAP ousted the ruling party from local governments in major cities, including Dalan.

In the elections, many important centers including Istanbul, Ankara, and İzmir were lost to the Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP). Oltan Sungurlu, one of ANAP’s prominent figures, summed up the situation as, “A roller passed over us!”

Those who remember that period will remind, “SHP performed poorly in municipalities and left its place to Welfare Party municipalities in 1994. Therefore, comparing it to 1989 is not correct!” Yes, to some extent true. In 1989, SHPers came to local power for the first time.


Looking at the March 31 elections in this way, it would be more accurate to compare them to the 1995 elections. Because the Welfare Party emerged as the first party in the December 24, 1995 elections with 21.4% of the vote and 158 deputies, thanks to the performance it displayed in the few municipalities it won in 1994.

CHP became the first party in the provincial council elections on March 31 with a rate of 37.3% (AK Party 35.8), thanks to the municipal administration it demonstrated in major cities, especially Istanbul and Ankara, that it won in 2019.

The electorate, especially those who voted for the AK Party, showed a yellow card to the government by not going to the polls mainly due to the high cost of living. Participation was 84% in 2019, but it remained at 71% in this election. Erdoğan had announced that 2024 would be the year of retirees in Turkey. These elections indeed proved that 2024 is the “year of retirees.”

Here, I think I need to share the bad scenario for retirees. Minister of Treasury and Finance Mehmet Şimşek opposed correcting retirement salaries on the grounds that there was no money in the treasury. However, retirees are a voter group that will lose in any case. If the AK Party had won, retirees would be told, “You gave your vote. We will improve your situation within 4 years!” If the Palace blames retirees for the defeat, then it will be, “God damn them. They made us lose!”


Had Erdoğan received the desired result, the agenda of Turkey from this week would have been the caliphate. They would have set to work saying, “A 100-year break!” The caliphate has now fallen from Turkey’s agenda. Groups like İsmailağa and Menzil will not be among the winners of the new era. Branches of the Nur Community that openly supported Erdoğan will also be among the losers. Those who became political will not be among the winners. In my article dated March 7, I asked, “Will the post-election operation target Menzil or Çarşamba?” The question remains fully relevant. Another loser of the election will be the Good Party (İYİ Parti) and its leader Meral Akşener, who walked away from the table on March 3 and entered this election “on their own.” Voters sympathetic to the Nation Alliance now comment, “Had there been no vacillations, the Erdoğan era would have ended between May 14-28.” Bilge Yılmaz, responsible for İYİ Parti’s Economic Policies, invited Akşener to resign and left her position. More departures are discussed. Not only İYİ Parti but also the Future Party, DEVA Party, Victory Party, and Felicity Party are facing a challenging period ahead. Among them, only DEVA has the potential to renew itself. Its situation will depend on the transfers from İYİ Parti and the policies it will demonstrate after forming its group. The situation of the MHP was demonstrated by Devlet Bahçeli himself going to vote.


Erdoğan tried to secure victories for the candidates of the party he chairs by using all the means of the state and every kind of deterrent method to prevent votes from going to other parties. According to his own statement, he participated in election activities in 52 different provinces.

He accused the CHP of collaborating with terrorism and solicited votes for his party’s candidates. After running such a reckless election campaign, if his party falls behind the CHP to become the second party from the 50%s, even if he climbs to the balcony and says, “I was elected for a 5-year term. I have 4 more years ahead,” the coming days will show that the situation is not as he states.

Erdoğan, reminding that he has more than 4 years ahead, announced they would correct their mistakes by the next election. He did not utter a single sentence about what those mistakes were.

There was a statement foreign investors were curious about. Would Erdoğan abandon his economic policies after the debacle? In his balcony speech, Erdoğan delivered messages inviting capital to calmness. He announced that they would not deviate from the Medium-Term Program (OVP) and would focus more on urgent issues.


The front of the AK Party Headquarters experienced abandonment last night. It was completely empty until 23:30. Then, people were called and gathered. When Tayyip Erdoğan came out for the balcony speech, he could not catch the excitement he wanted. He frequently paused his speech, wanting the excitement of a small group chanting slogans to spread to other people in the square. It didn’t happen. In the end, he directed the crowd by telling them what they needed to do.

Erdoğan, the first person the election rolled over like a steamroller, chose to resist rather than give up, which is as natural for Turkish politics as it gets. But the traces of the defeat were all over his face. He chose to make a counter-move as in the December 17-25 period. For those who know Erdoğan, this was not a surprise. But his voter base no longer had the strength to resist.

Saying the winner of the election was the national will wasn’t considered a wrong statement. However, these words were nothing but a guise prepared to overshadow CHP’s election victory. “March 31 is not an end, but a turning point.” Even though this was said from the balcony, it essentially had two addressees. One was the AK Party management other than himself, and the other was the bureaucracy. We will see what kind of scythe will be swung at the party management in the coming period.

Erdoğan’s message to the bureaucracy was, “No one should think I’m going anywhere. I am here and will continue to stay.” He turned to foreign policy. Since there was nothing visibly to be done domestically, he turned to foreign policy contacts. He made phone calls with Iranian President Raisi and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is mentioned for the NATO Secretary Generalship.


March 31 marked the day when CHP’s path was cleared, provided it takes the right steps. For the first time in 46 years since 1977, CHP emerged as the first party from the ballot box. CHP’s management team achieved this result as much due to their own efforts as due to the mistakes of the government.

The beacon of hope born on March 31, becoming a shining Sun, lies as a burden and responsibility on CHP’s shoulders.


Ekrem İmamoğlu, who had long been clear about his candidacy in the next general election, reinforced his claim by winning the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality once again. İmamoğlu actually laid out his roadmap back in 2012 when he ran for the Beylikdüzü candidacy, saying, “There’s no sleep for us until we’re in power in Beylikdüzü. Know that afterward, we’re in power in Istanbul and then Turkey!”

However, there was another person who spoke to the crowd gathered outside the Ankara Metropolitan Municipality building in the evening. Mayor Mansur Yavaş, who ran his campaign with the slogan “Less talk, more action,” and beat his opponent by 25%, securing 60% of the vote from the people of Ankara, stated, “I am in the race for the Presidency as well.”

The electorate showed that it did not consent to appointed ministers, bureaucrats, and soldiers being so involved in the election. It showed that it did not want a state party.

The political climate in Turkey is now starting to change. This task has essentially been placed on the shoulders of CHP’s management team.

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