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What awaits Erdoğan in the general elections?

In the upcoming general election, the party will be facing 10 million first time voters

Ceylan Ozbudak

Published: Updated:

The AK Party emerged victorious from the local elections in Turkey but the race is not over yet. We are now awaiting general elections in 2015, where we will see a real face off among the politicians. If you were thinking local elections were passionate in Turkey, I can honestly tell, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

We don’t know whom the AKP will have as their candidate for Prime Minister for the general elections; this decision is likely to be made after a meeting between Prime Minister Erdogan and President Gul. But we do know that Turkey's social fabric calls for an all-inclusive center right party to rule the country.

In my article last week, I explained how the AKP created a new middle class in Turkey over the course of the last decade. As the level of income and education has increased, these people started to aspire for the lifestyle that the folks we used to call “white Turks” always enjoyed, without leaving their religious and moral identities behind.

This simply means, we now have a sizeable group of people in Turkey who enjoy a Western-centric life style while still retaining the Muslim identities and these people are more welcoming to Western criticism and intellectual discourse than they used to be.

Therefore, the Turkish center- right cannot afford to ignore all the criticism they are getting from the West if they want to please the electorate. Where municipal elections are concerned, good governance goes a very long way but vis-à-vis the general elections, the AKP needs to take a few extra steps to steer the ship through the storm.

The first defeat

When we look at the local election results, we can see that the AKP lost almost all the coastal towns of Turkey: As I said one week before the elections, the very reason for this loss has been their orthodox approach to Islam, which has fewer supporters in Turkey every day. Especially in the coastal towns of Turkey, the dress code or to be frank, the social code of the people is very different than what the AKP intends to portray.

In the upcoming general election, the party will be facing 10 million first time voters. Young Turks growing up in a wealthier Turkey will be twice as hard to please

Ceylan Ozbudak

Even though the CHP or other parties did not bring good enough governance to these places when compared to AKP municipal areas, people fear they will be segregated because of their lifestyle on an official level and thus, they can live with incompetent politicians but they cannot bear potential segregation.

Even though Prime Minister Erdoğan repeatedly stressed in his speeches that he sees women donning revealing clothes and women wearing headscarves as the same, AKP sub-cadres failed to offer the same guarantee, possibly because people simply want to see the AKP choosing its local cadres among the beach-dwellers of the Western Aegean Region of Turkey. As we move ahead the 21st century, the number of people adopting a Western lifestyle - especially in Western Turkey - will likely continue to grow.

Therefore, if the Turkish center-right wants to take a leap forward and claim these towns, they need to act faster with a new campaign to embrace all these people and put an end to tendencies toward polarization in that region. Let’s not forget, in the upcoming general election, the party will be facing 10 million first time voters. Young Turks growing up in a wealthier Turkey will be twice as hard to please.

The second defeat

One other defeat in the municipal elections for the AKP came from the Southeast Turkey, where the PKK has a supremely well-functioning propaganda machine. Even though the majority of the people in these provinces are devoutly religious, they feel forced to vote for the PKK backed parties, like the BDP, because they feel genuinely threatened for their lives if they don't. In the run-up to the elections, attacks on AKP candidates and offices in particular took place in Diyarbakır, Van, Hakkari and various other provinces. These attacks were meant to send the message “We are the power here, and you must go along with us.”

This cannot simply be considered as losing votes to another party, but given the nature of the party, the Turkish right needs to be exceedingly cautious against the dangers of a separatist movement which is asking for autonomy in the region. Even though the word “autonomy” sounds relatively benign, in Turkey, it means a mini Soviet Russia in the Middle East. All political parties, supporting a unified Turkey under one flag, must form coalitions in the region in order to decrease the political power of the PKK.

As Adnan Oktar suggested; “Right and center-right parties have lost elections by very narrow margins in towns such as Ağrı, Iğdır and Siirt; had they formed pre-election alliances and worked together, those losses would obviously not have happened. In order to avoid a massive electoral loss in the Southeast, the AKP, the CHP, the MHP, the SP, the BBP and HudaPar should enter the elections in an alliance. Everyone must be capable of making sacrifices when there is a danger of fragmentation and they must be capable of forging an alliance in the name of the unity of the motherland. Our nation expects all parties to unite in a spirit of brotherhood at such a time.”

The voter turnout in the elections on the other hand remained quite high at around 89.1 percent, which was higher than the previous local elections that took place in 2009. Increased voter turnout is to be expected in every country when there is increased polarization. Therefore, the majority of the normally abstaining voters chose a side and went to the ballot box. Neither the AKP nor the opposition can rely on this polarization for long, since these flames are usually flash in the pan, and tend to subside very quickly.

What can the CHP do to increase its votes?

The main opposition center-left experienced a bitter defeat unlike other elections, however, the truth is that the AKP was in a vulnerable position. Yet despite these circumstances, the center left could not increase its votes significantly. The CHP seems to have realized that they will need to shift more to the center-right if they aspire to gain more voters in Turkey. However, they need to put into practice three things before next year's general elections if they want to emerge victorious.

Firstly, even though the CHP did not openly state they sided with the parties attacking the government, they also did not make it clear that they were not supporting these parties. This created doubt in people’s minds since the tapes and allegations were found to be contra legem by the majority of the electorate. The CHP should have put these tapes and allegations aside and produced its own politics, not depending on unlawfully obtained information to sweep them into power.

Secondly, the CHP needs to prove they can provide efficient services. Even though there were many people who considered voting for the CHP, they could not find a solid pathway in front of them in terms of governance. The CHP did not offer any concrete plans to enhance the economic developments of the AKP era or further develop the foreign relations especially with the Muslim world, which increased considerably under the AKP. The electorate simply fears incompetent governance and economic breakdown if the CHP wins.

Negative memories

Thirdly, even though they showcased examples of more tolerance, the CHP needs to erase the negative memories towards the devout Muslims in Turkey. Throughout the years of the hijab ban, we have never seen the CHP as an advocate of the hijabi ladies or Muslims in the public space.

It is crystal clear that the majority of the CHP members are high quality people, and they are good models for the Turkish community, if perhaps a less authentic version, which we all should seek to emulate in many places (or in simpler terms, they are among the “white Turks”). The CHP should use this advantage to put forward a much more tolerant and modern form of Muslim identity. This will easily set a higher quality model for the religious Turks.

An all encompassing, all-inclusive, modern and intellectual Muslim model will not only sweep the votes to the center-left CHP, but will help Turkey be accepted in the Western world as an epitome of Muslim democracy, as well. The CHP has some additional homework: They need to put forth a solid platform of their own, genuine politics, which is not derived from finger pointing at the mistakes of the AKP.

On the other hand, if the center- right AKP wants to hold on to their throne, they also need to emphasize – in word and deed – that they respect the lifestyles of Western-centric Turks and they must focus more on enhancing freedoms in all areas of social life; they have done good work in governance already. Both parties, the CHP and the AKP, also need to leave their political differences aside and join forces in regard to Southeast Turkey to maintain the unitary structure of the country.

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Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.