The cities that could go at the next election

Outside the biggest cities, wider boundaries and electoral maths suggests Turkey’s governing AK party has some vulnerabilities

Outside the biggest cities, wider boundaries and electoral maths suggests Turkey’s governing AK party has some vulnerabilities

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For this month’s local election, the rules have changed. There are now twice as many Büyükşehirs and, apart from Istanbul and Kocaeli, all have much wider boundaries. This means more people than ever before – 76 per cent of all voters in the country – will be electing the mayor of their nearest large city, even if they live hours away in a remote mountain village.

This website’s analysis of voting patterns reveals that the wider boundaries and increased electorate can significantly affect the results in more than half of Turkey’s Büyükşehirs:

  • In 19 provinces, new rural voters account for at least one-third of the total electorate;
  • In 12 provinces, new rural voters outnumber existing urban voters;
  • Had the 2009 election run under today’s rules, six provinces would have a mayor from a different party.

The six provinces in question are a mix of coastal and southeastern provinces. Unlike the AK Party’s 102 safe seats in central Anatolia, which represent a largely homogeneous population, these six  are a diverse mix of ethnicities and professions. Their main cities are not all held by the same single party. In all of them, the 2009 victor is at serious risk of losing in 2014.

The marginal six

  • Balıkesir, in the west, currently held by the nationalist MHP;
  • Mersin and Ordu, coastal provinces held by the MHP and CHP respectively;
  • Hatay, Mardin and Şanlıurfa, all AK Party provinces bordering Syria in Turkey’s southeast.

The enlarged boundaries mean that people living in villages high in the mountains outside central Mersin and Ordu will be electing a Büyükşehir mayor for the first time. Unlike their coastal counterparts, which strongly support opposition parties, people here are more conservative and likely to support the AK Party.

Blue town, red coast, yellow countryside

Balıkesir is an interesting province because all three main parties have a shot at winning it in 2014. The town itself was won by the MHP in 2009, but its coastal areas swing towards the CHP and more rural areas inland are pro-AK Party; put together in 2009, AK would have won here, but this year’s race is wide open.

And some of AK’s southeastern possessions are under threat too. The party has long boasted its ability to win the Kurdish vote and hold towns like Mardin, but voters living outside the main city outnumber those inside by 4 to 1, making it very likely that the victory here will be Ahmet Türk, the pro-Kurdish BDP’s candidate. Şanlıurfa, which AK has lost before to an independent rival, is under similar threat.

Syria factor

The party also risks losing Hatay. Turkey’s southernmost city was an easy win for AK in 2009, but the surrounding newly enfranchised districts have tended to support the opposition CHP.

Another factor is the presence of multiple camps housing Syrian refugees, which have been known to aggravate the local population. One district to watch will be Reyhanlı, the site of a bombing with connections to the Syrian conflict. This will be the AK Party’s first electoral test after that attack.

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