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Turkey

Opinion: Turkish local elections of international importance

Local elections in Turkey will show whether voters have decided to reward or to punish Prime Minister Erdogan for his style of leadership, says DW's Baha Güngör.

Baha Güngör 
Photo: DW/Per Henriksen

Baha Güngör heads DW's Turkish department

About 52 million Turkish citizens are called on to cast their ballots in local elections on Sunday (30.03.2014). They will be voting on mayors and local parliaments, but their ballots will also decide Recep Tayyip Erdogan's political future. The outcome of presidential elections in summer will also depend on whether his conservative AKP party can retain - or even expand - its current base of power. What will happen if the ruling party is confronted with a drop in popularity? One can only speculate.

It's unlikely that the AKP will top the terrific near 50 percent of the vote the party won in parliamentary elections three years ago. It's the same in Turkey as in other democratic states: local elections are a welcome opportunity to teach the mighty a lesson.

The country is split

Currently, Turkey is in a special situation due to a dangerous domestic polarization between Erdogan's supporters and opponents. As a result, the local elections are just as significant as parliamentary polls. They might also indicate whether President Abdullah Gul will be voted into another term of office in summer - or whether Erdogan might take over for him. The trenches between the two sides are deeper and wider than at any time since Erdogan took office 12 years ago.

For almost a year, Erdogan has ruled in a style similar to other dictators around the world. Instead of seeking democratic compromise, he ruled with an iron fist. Water cannons instead of reasoning, and tear gas instead of sympathy for the concerns and problems of the masses who demonstrated against him. Such steps are pushing the country ever further in the direction of a civil war-like struggle for domestic peace.

Intimidation of the media, Internet censorship and bans on international social media networks show that Erdogan's reputation for being a reformer and leader on the path to EU membership is a thing of the past. The religious, conservative autocrat blames journalists, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook for the many recorded phone calls that have been leaked on social networks that allegedly show corruption and graft connected with Erdogan's family.

EU membership questionable

So far, the recording of an embarrassing conversation among Turkey's foreign minister, a senior ministry official, Erdogan's deputy chief of staff and the head of the intelligence agency is the height of irresponsibility shown by the leadership of a NATO member. It is almost impossible to trust a leadership that deliberates what should be done to provoke an excuse for an attack on neighboring Syria.

Observers currently regard the movement of cleric Fethullah Gulen as the source of numerous revelations of lapses in the government. Gulen has many supporters in the state apparatus, and the cleric himself apparently coordinates a campaign aimed at the downfall of Erdogan's regime from the United States, where he has lived since 1999. But it remains to be seen whether Erdogan's former political ally and current spearhead of the opposition movement is as powerful as he is rumored to be.

No, Turkey won't decide on Sunday only which parties will set up mayors in which cities. The vote will show whether people have decided to honor or to punish Erdogan's anti-democratic leadership style. What a pity for Turkey's hopes of joining the EU if democratic elections hasten the country's drift away from contemporary European values.

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