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Turkey's municipal elections, scenarios and expectations

By Walid Abu Abbas, Taha Oudah

ISTANBUL, March 20 (KUNA) -- Turkish political parties stepped up their campaigns for the municipal elections with the electorate bracing for selecting 30 metropolitan and 1,351 district municipal chiefs, alongside 1,251 provincial and 20,500 municipal council members.
The Supreme Electoral Council said by the end of March, the number of eligible voters would hit 57,078,461, noting that 194,715 polling stations would be ready to receive voters countrywide on March 31.
Competing will be representatives of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the Republican People's Party (CHP), the Nation Party (MP), the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), the Good Party (IYI), the Independent Turkey Party (BTP), the Grand Unity Party (BBP), the Democrat Party (DP), Democratic Left Party (DSP), the Turkish Communist Party (TKP), and the Free Cause Party (Huda Par).
The AKP attaches great importance to these elections and deems them crucial to addressing numerous challenges at home. The Party, vying for major metropolitan municipalities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, has fielded political celebrities such as Binali Yildirim, the former speaker of the Grand National Assembly (parliament), in Istanbul.
With a total population of 15 million, Istanbul has nearly one sixth of the country's total electorate, so the party that rules the city rules the country.
In the 2014 municipal elections, the AKP garnered 43 percent of votes with a comfortable lead over the closest rival, the CHP, which got only 25 percent, Turkish political analyst Mehmet Demirbag told KUNA.
Many questions relating to the domestic and external situations arise in the coming elections, which take place amid unprecedented polarization and tensions, he opined.
Despite its considerable clout over Istanbul since 2002, the AKP has been wary of surprises from the rival parties in the recent years. Therefore, the party threw its weight behind its candidates in the city, Demirbag said.
The economic problems, being undergone by Turkey since last year, coupled with the dishonest practices by merchants, weakened the purchasing power of citizens and shrouded the coming polls in ambiguity, he noted.
He added that the rising costs of transportation, storage and leasing as well as the rising exchange rate of the US dollar vis-أ -vis the Turkish lira could affect the choices of voters.
Although the lira regained nine percent of the 30 percent it has lost against the US dollar since last August, merchants attribute the price hikes to rise in the US dollar exchange rate.
Opinion polls, conducted in the city a fortnight before the elections, show that the coming battle for Istanbul would be the toughest for the Party and its leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The polls show a slight majority and declining popularity for the ruling People's Alliance between the AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), announced by President Erdogan in February 2018.
The People's Coalition has to double its efforts to maintain their lead over the opposition Nation Alliance that was formed in May 2018 by the Republican People's Party, the nationalist IYI, the Islamist Felicity Party and the center-right Democrat Party.
In this vein, President Erdogan focused his recent speeches to the residents of Istanbul and Ankara and urged his party members to mobilize for the elections, the first to be held since the constitutional amendments of April 2017.
He warned the merchants against dishonest manipulation of the people's needs and urged the municipal authorities to step up the inspection campaigns at marketplaces and shops.
On their part, the AKP-led municipalities launched shopping areas to sell the essential foodstuffs, vegetables and staples at reasonable prices. The main challenges facing the AKP are the slowing economic growth and the rising costs of living, which put in jeopardy the popularity the party and its predecessor the Virtue Party enjoyed over the last two decades in Istanbul and Ankara.
The growing inflation is clearly seen in the hikes of the prices of foodstuffs, director of the economic affairs section at Daily Star said.
The rising prices of commodities, such as potato and union, are the main theme of talks by citizens and politicians on the social media websites, he said in statement to KUNA. The opposition parties try to manipulate this economic problem to achieve political gains against the government, which, in turn, is launching campaigns to control the prices, he pointed out.
The Ministry of Trade adopted urgent measures to bring down the prices and prevent political manipulation of the economic problems.
The coming polls, that coincide with internal and external attempts to destabilize Turkey, brought to test the economic and political achievements made by the AKP over the last two decades. (end) ta.wa.gb