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    Turkish Cities to Change Hands After Elections Without Erdogan's Power - Experts

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    MOSCOW (Sputnik) - The Turkish ruling party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan looks set to lose this Sunday’s municipal elections but its defeat is unlikely to threaten his hold on power, analysts told Sputnik.

    Voters will cast ballots to elect mayors of 30 metropolitan cities, scores of provincial capitals and hundreds of municipal districts, as well as local assembly representatives and village administrators.

    Erdogan has billed the vote as key to the state’s survival, turning it into essentially a referendum on his government, which has been struggling to shore up the ailing national economy as it enters a recession.

    Opposition to Win Big in Big Cities

    The opposition Nation Alliance of the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Good Party (IYI) is projected to snatch some big cities from the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), in alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

    The past few elections ended in the AKP and the MHP triumphing with slightly over half of votes. The upcoming election will tilt this balance in favour of the opposition if a portion of Erdogan supporters refuses to turn up to send him a message, Seda Demiralp from the Isik University in Istanbul told Sputnik.

    "There is group of AKP-MHP supporters who are unhappy with the government's inability to overcome the economic downturn. Even pro-government groups cannot avoid the costs of the currency crisis and high inflation. These groups will not vote for the opposition, given the deeply polarised political environment but they may chose to not vote due to their frustration or to send a warning to the government. If this happens, the ruling party may not be able to win the majority", she said.

    READ MORE: Turkish Local Elections: A Referendum on President Erdogan?

    The AKP looks set for defeat in the capital Ankara and in the economic hub Istanbul. Other big losses are projected to be the cities of Izmir, Antalya, Adana, and Bursa, according to Huseyin Bagci, a professor of international relations at Middle East Technical University in Ankara.

    "Istanbul is still for AKP at the moment but the difference is also not so big. The Kurdish votes in Istanbul will determine some parts of the city councils… In Ankara, there are some controversial discussions concerning the candidate but the public surveys show that he leads with a big difference. Ankara could be lost for AKP", he predicted.

    The opposition will strengthen its presence in several medium-sized cities and towns, he said. It will be the first local election for the nationalist IYI and it is expected to win some new mayoral positions, according to Abdullah Aydogan, a researcher at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

    Still, Aydogan expressed scepticism about the opposition winning Ankara and Istanbul, citing possible election fraud.

    "HDP’s prospects will be largely based on whether AKP will be able to repeat what he did in the southeast in the last general elections. Remember the majority of the fraud allegations were from the east and southeast, Kurdish majority regions", he said.

    Cities Change Hands but Erdogan Stays

    Whatever their outcome, the elections are unlikely to undermine Erdogan’s 16-year grip on power or his party’s dominance in the national politics, Aydogan predicted.

    "Even if AKP loses significant amount of votes, that outcome will not bring a huge burden on AKP’s power in the government. At the end, there will not be any other election in the next 3-4 years. And considering AKP’s lost in 2009 local election and its recovery in 2011, AKP can again recover in 3-4 years", he argued.

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    He suggested that if the ruling party loses some key cities it would still have the power to jail or replace the elected mayors. This is evidenced by Erdogan’s recent verbal attacks on the opposition’s mayoral candidate in Ankara, Mansur Yavas, who has been charged with misconduct.

    Bagci said the president and the interior minister had earlier indicated that some mayors would be replaced by state appointees, in particular in HDP-won cities in eastern Anatolia, such as Agrı, Siirt, Batman, Van, and others.

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    But Demiralp said she expected the elections to bring about a major change if they result in the opposition running Ankara and Istanbul, which would mark a turning point in AKP’s political career.

    "Winning in Istanbul or/and Ankara would make a critical change in Turkish politics as it would indicate a turning point in the political career of the AKP. Erdogan's rise to power began with his party's… victory in municipal elections and him becoming the mayor of Istanbul as a result. Thus, if his party loses elections in Istanbul after almost three decades, this would indicate that his grip on power is finally weakening", she said.

    No Economic Relief in Sight

    Economic woes will continue to weigh on Erdogan, the analysts predicted. The president rolled out a series of populist measures ahead of the vote to keep his base happy and trap foreign funds inside the country, but these steps may backfire in the longer run.

    "The economic downturn that Turkey has been facing since 2018, however, presents a challenge for Erdogan… Erdogan is trying hard to prevent the depreciation of TL [Turkish lira] against USD, one of the most visible signs of the economic crisis. Some of these measures, such as trapping investors by preventing them to sell TL, deviate from the principles of a free market economy and thus may backfire in the longer run. However, they may save Erdogan some votes in the short-run", Demiralp said.

    The Turkish economy tumbled into its first recession in a decade earlier in March after its national currency first nosedived amid US sanctions last summer. The lira slumped almost 7 percent in a single day last week and continued slipping this week.

    READ MORE: Turkish Media Reveals First Deployment Site of Russian-Made S-400s

    Bagci said the government was unable to reassure the international domestic markets as well as the people in general. He warned that the economic downturn would get more severe and Erdogan’s team would be not able to overcome it, which may lead to a cabinet reshuffle, but no economic relief.

    "President will shift and change some ministers if he is not happy with results from Sunday elections. Turkish economy is resilient but it is shrinking and will further shrink if there are not some new economic initiatives to increase the production and put realist economic programs", he suggested.

    Aydogan linked the crisis to the government’s record of undermining the rule of law.

    "The weak rule of law prevents foreign investors and discourages the native entrepreneurs as well as the highly skilled professionals. That is why Turkey has been experiencing huge brain drain. In the absence of natural resource wealth such as oil, it is hard to fix economy simply suppressing the opposition", he argued.

    The views expressed in this article are solely those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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