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HomePolitical ScienceUnpacking the Dynamics of the 2024 Local Elections: Analyzing the Shifts and...

Unpacking the Dynamics of the 2024 Local Elections: Analyzing the Shifts and Future Challenges

Ulas Tol*

The AK Party lost, the CHP won. These two outcomes are well-known to everyone. Yet, their distinct causes and consequences keep them intriguing.

Key questions arising from this known outcome include:

How much did the AK Party lose, and to whom? Why did this happen now when it didn’t in 2023? Can the AK Party recover? Can the CHP manage its rise? To answer these questions, it’s useful to first review the numerical results.

Two different metrics provide useful insights into the election data. The first, which I call the nominal vote ratios, is the distribution of valid votes (the official results). The second, which I refer to as the real vote, includes the distribution among all voters (those who did not go to the polls + valid votes + invalid votes). The first metric shows who officially won (the announced rates), while the second provides data for understanding the level of societal representation, a factor that enhances legitimacy. This distinction has become even more important for this election due to a notable decrease in turnout.

What happened?

According to nominal vote ratios, the CHP made a significant jump. However, it’s true that the AK Party’s significant loss influenced this surge; the rise is relative in nature. In other words, the CHP succeeded more due to defections from the AK Party than the votes it organically attracted. Besides being relatively higher, the CHP also increased its votes in real terms. Unlike in 2019, the lack of alliances in 2024 led to more significant losses for opposition parties within themselves, and the rising apathy also increased non-voting. Nevertheless, the fact that the CHP increased its real votes compared to 2019 proves that it also drew votes from the ruling party supporters. CHP’s support among all voters increased by 2.6 points. Adding the non-voters and losses due to vote dilution, it can be said that the CHP gained approximately 4-4.5 points, which is around 2.5-3 million new voters. This transition is clearly visible in strong AK Party provinces and districts, where significant defections were observed outside the ballot box.

The real vote of the YRP, at 5.2%, appears to have come substantially from the AK Party (about 70% if we include those from Saadet and other parties). From this, a rough deduction can be made: 40% of those who left the AK Party went outside the ballot box, 40% to the YRP, and 20% to other opposition parties, including the CHP.

Key results indicated by the numbers are as follows:

  1. CHP Victory: Firstly, the CHP won by a relatively large margin and also significantly increased its votes in real terms. Secondly, despite disorganization and internal competition in the opposition, it managed to consolidate opposition votes. Thirdly, it won a significant number of municipal governments, enough to govern two-thirds of the population.
  2. AK Party’s Conscientious Refusal by Voters: Ultimately, it suffered multiple losses: apart from the disgruntled non-voters, it lost to the YRP, CHP, DEM, and even to the BBP. It faced the reality of deteriorating relations with every segment of society.
  3. Drop in Voting Turnout: Not surprisingly, there was a significant drop among AK Party supporters, but not insignificantly among the opposition either. Ethnically, the largest drop was among Kurds.
  4. Loss of Power by Nationalist Parties: The total nationalist party votes (MHP + İYİ Parti + BBP + ZP) dropped from 17.3% to 14.9%. Nationalism is not becoming irrelevant. In fact, the level of nationalism in the CHP will also be a new area of scrutiny. However, the post-2023 delusion that “nationalism is rising” did not materialize.
  5. YRP Became the First and Unproblematic Address for Mass Exit from the AK Party, capturing a significant share of what it could.
  6. DEM Held Its Ground and Gained: It couldn’t bring back its long-alienated voters to the polls in the region, but with the departure of AK Party Kurds from the ballot, it maintained, and even increased, its nominal vote ratios in some areas and won many more municipalities than in 2019. However, its third-way claim did not attract attention in the west. Taking a somewhat hasty inference, it can be said that the party engagement of Kurdish voters in the west has loosened and that the CHP is beginning to become a possibility for Kurds.

Other parties grouped in the ‘other’ category. Ironically, one of the least polarized elections increased consolidation at both poles.

Although not the most critical result, another promising attitude of the electorate was this: as a reflection of criticism of dirty politics, it also punished the blackmail politics of changing parties when not nominated. In many examples, such as Çukurova, Seyhan, Sarıyer, Eyüp, these candidates neither showed presence nor caused losses to their old parties.

What lies ahead for the CHP in maintaining its rise, and for the AK Party in how it can recover, will determine the politics of the coming years.

How did this happen?

The answer to the question of how is not very complicated. The AK Party voters exercised their right to conscientious refusal based on accumulated grievances. Corruption, injustices, economic issues, favoritism, waste, and similar debilitating factors were activated. So, why not then in 2023 but now? I will list four main reasons:

  1. Leadership Capability as the Most Crucial Criterion for Voters: In 2023, voters did not see a difference in the opposition regarding issues they were dissatisfied with the AK Party. They neither trusted the opposition nor believed in its competence. There are many reasons for this mistrust. Even if one of the ten mistakes I discussed in the 2023 election analysis had not occurred, the election could have been won.[1] In this election, however, signs of capability were less visible on the AK Party side (especially considering candidates and promises), while the governance of CHP municipalities, especially İmamoğlu and Yavaş, shone in the eyes of the voters, becoming known even in other cities during the campaign period, dampening and even reversing the message of “they talk, AK Party does.”
  2. Candidate Comparison Shifted Direction This Election: In 2023, Erdoğan’s superiority over Kılıçdaroğlu in the “who will win” response completely and clearly reversed this election. İmamoğlu, Yavaş, and many other CHP candidates gained noticeable popularity superiority. The perception that AK Party candidates were incompetent, power-poisoned, and arrogant prevailed, and the candidates displayed profiles that symbolized problems rather than solutions.
  3. Voters Uncomfortable in 2023 Supported the Government One Last Time, Perhaps Because They Did Not Fit in with the Opposition: After the election, these voters became even more dissatisfied as the government continued with the same strength and nothing changed. The uneasy vote choices in 2023 turned into a good opportunity to balance and express their deferred reactions in 2024.
  4. Polarization Politics, a Long-time Main Supporter of Erdoğan, Worked in 2023 Despite the Opposition’s Sly Fighting, But Ceased to Be a Factor in 2024: No doubt this is a local election and polarization is found irrelevant to the topic. The local nature of the campaigns further strengthened this feeling. Even the instrumentalized Gaza issue worked against the government as commercial relations with Israel were strongly brought up in the agenda.

Many other factors could be listed, but these four elements differentiated 2023 from 2024.

What happens next?

It’s clear that gaps have formed in the parts outside AK Party, CHP, and DEM, and this area will turn into a new battleground. DEM has an April 1 and post-election agenda pointed out by Demirtaş before the election. However, in this article, I will limit the answer to what happens next to the main players in the series.

The current situation poses challenges for both CHP and AK Party. Naturally, as the loser of the election, AK Party has a much more multidimensional difficult task. The question for the AK Party is this: Can the AK Party reconcile with those it has alienated?

I mentioned that the AK Party lost the election in multiple ways. Its roadmap is not clear yet. The route will be determined by whom it will bill the defeat and whom it will aim to regain by giving up on others. It is useful to remember that when talking about the AK Party, we are not talking about a homogenous block. Adding multiple losses makes everyone around the party tend to react from the side they are concentrated on. For example, the diploma crisis in Van and the reactions to this crisis differed at a level that could be called harsh. A similar confusion occurred in charging Özlem Zengin. There has been a long-term criticism that the AK Party has drifted away from its codes and Westernized. The unstoppable flow to Yeniden Refah is primarily due to moving away from ethical Islamism, blamed on AK Party women, with Özlem Zengin seen as the symbolic figure. However, despite the low-scale campaign started, the party stood by Özlem Zengin. A similar tension in the economic area happened a bit out of necessity long before the elections, continued with rumors that Mehmet Şimşek would be dismissed after the elections, but he is still in office and his prescriptions are in effect. In short, multiple losses and diversifying causes of defeat make early moves difficult for the AK Party. On one hand, steps need to be taken to be inclusive and bring normalization. On the other hand, Islamic tones, such as steps on the Gaza issue, economic moves, and also a Kurdish opening are needed. It’s likely that the cooperation with MHP will also start to be questioned.

Inclusive politics, easier when things go well, has become impossible during a period when economic problems permeate daily life.

On the other hand, the government has actually been losing the majority for a long time. It won 2023 despite this, thanks to the mistakes of the opposition. However, this was not sustainable and did not continue. Therefore, the new regime forcing the government to win the majority, also seen as the source of problems, has now become an obstacle for the government. Probably the easiest change in attitude will be in this area. Most likely, the government will bring a revision in the governance and election system to the agenda and try to do this in consensus with the opposition if possible. It is now quite difficult for Erdoğan to find 50+1, but he still hopes to come out first in a multi-candidate race.

Of course, the challenge facing CHP will approach with moral superiority gained. The question for CHP is this: How will CHP manage the rise?

CHP actually caught a significant momentum in mid-2022, and it was discussed that Erdoğan could no longer manage the country. In an article I wrote at that time in Perspective, I mentioned that if this rising trend continues, CHP could reach 35%, but it was within a rise paradox that set its limits. The paradox worked and the rise was postponed to 2024. Whether the paradox will be reactivated will depend on how much the change in CHP is based on a real foundation. I had described the situation in 2022 like this:

A rise paradox stops CHP. A significant part of CHP voters, like other voter groups, supports and follows CHP not with optimal expectations but with reference to ethical frameworks and a maximalist standard. They want CHP and its politicians to fit into this framework. On the other hand, it is not closed to inclusive politics: It can accept these as pragmatic moves with the motivation to win elections.

With the rise, the party and the voters, whose confidence increases, bring forward their intrinsic expectations more. Initially suppressed tensions with the idea and steps of inclusivity are surfacing. The discourse of “reconciliation” quickly gives way to demands for “accountability.” Safe/guaranteed exits are being closed to those who want to leave from the opposing neighborhood… Pragmatism is felt when a fall is sensed, and a maximalist ethical view emerges when a rise is sensed. As a result, it oscillates between rising as it includes, excluding as it rises, and falling trends.

Now CHP also faces the risk of facing a similar situation. It is clear that with the rise, it has added different segments from its traditional secular base to its body: nationalists, religious people, Kurds. On the other hand, the traditional base can become sensitive on this journey of expansion through inclusion. “While the party distributes blue beads to all segments for the sake of inclusivity, they feel neglected, that their sensitivities are not considered important, that they are taken for granted,” can be agitated and disturbed. “Unlimited inclusivity targeting everyone challenges the tolerance levels of the main mass. Although loosened, certain limits, lines, in short, a policy to be followed is expected.”

Thus, the diversified profile sets up a challenge that CHP is just learning. Gestures or approaches towards one of the different segments can negatively affect the other.

However, we experienced in the 2023 elections that a policyless, attitudeless balance policy in Turkey’s problem areas did not satisfy any segment of the electorate, those who had something to say found more response than those who were silent. It was easier to maintain the balance in local agendas of the local election. Even the electorate found the discourses of survival and security irrelevant to the local election both in 2019 and 2024. But in 2023, silence or policylessness regarding the problem areas in CHP did not alleviate the concerns of the anxious segments, and at the same time, it undermined confidence under the competence in country management. Moreover, policylessness also pushed a part of its own electorate towards other opposition parties. For these reasons, the challenge facing CHP in the upcoming period will be to establish a balance without escaping from politics and finding ways to overcome the rise paradox.

Özgür Özel’s post-election statements give positive signals in this direction. Displaying a calm, forward-looking, cautious, and fair stance, not intoxicated by victory, calming down this potential at the base. İmamoğlu’s inclusivity has become a dominant balance factor. However, if active and propositional political attitudes accompany these, the rise paradox can be overcome. CHP is at a challenging test moment. A period of responsibility that requires courage and considers balances awaits CHP.

[1] Ulaş Tol. (2024). “The rationale of the majority and the policylessness of the alliance”, Accumulation, issue 410-411, pp. 38-50. The chain of mistakes I mentioned in this article was:

The election was seen as won a year earlier, concentration directed towards after the election, the campaign trivialized A candidate choice was made that required convincing the majority, which even the opposition did not agree on. The candidate determination process was delayed, managed in a tense manner. The intermediate block formed between the government and the opposition was not considered important, it was assumed that they would also make a rational choice on election day. Instead of offering genuine but democratic solutions to the problems that raised nationalist discourses, sometimes evasive and sometimes strengthening but awkward reactions were given. Nationalism built on the Kurdish issue, the immigrant issue, and techno-nationalism acted as a catalyst for polarization. Measures for the concerns of particularly religious masses breaking away from the government block remained superficial and symbolic, a convincing framework based on evidence and trust could not be presented. Parliamentary arithmetic was seen as secondary. A partnership strategy was not established, MP lists were formed considering the impact during the election campaign, not calculating after the election. The presidential election was positioned as the main election, the parliamentary elections as the stage for unity in the opposition, and the parliamentary elections as the stage for competition within the opposition. A campaign period was passed that was effective in caressing the feelings of the opposition electorate but unsuccessful on the electorate that might break away from the government.

* Dr. Ulaş Tol is a is a political scientist and senior research expert with over 20 years of experience, specializing in voting behavior.

This article originally was published in Turkish in Birikim Magazine and translated by Politurco.

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