Here's everything you need to know about Turkey's local elections, in a short and fun format.
This explainer was prepared using research conducted by the TRT World Research Centre.
1) What do local elections mean in Turkish politics?
Local elections are important to Turkish politics for both citizens and political parties.
From a citizen’s perspective, local government bodies and particularly municipalities are the first point of contact for the services they require from the state due to various types of responsibilities that the municipalities hold, ranging from infrastructure, transportation, local security, health, issuing construction permits and providing wedding services.
For the political parties however, local elections mean something different altogether, and are the first step to achieving power. For the ruling party, local elections serve as a litmus test of its government, while providing a springboard for the next general elections for opposition parties.
2) What will people vote for?
On March 31 2019, Turkish citizens will cast their votes to elect local leaders. However, the number of votes that they cast depends on the type of district that they live in.
The Turkish administrative system defines three different district types for local elections: villages, cities and metropolitan cities. The difference between cities and metropolitan cities derives from the size of the population. Cities with more than 750,000 residents are categorised as metropolitan cities while the rest are simply called cities. There are 31 metropolitan cities and 50 cities across Turkey, and voters in both will have a total of four votes.
A voter living in a metropolitan city will therefore vote for a metropolitan municipality mayor, district mayor, municipal council members and mukhtar (neighbourhood representatives), while people in cities will cast their votes for a mayor, municipal council members, provincial assembly members and a mukhtar. People living in villages, on the other hand, will cast their votes only for provincial assembly members and a mukhtar.
3) Which parties will take part in the election?
Thirteen political parties are in the electoral race on March 31. However, it appears that the biggest races will be among five major parties, also represented in parliament. These parties are the AK Party, CHP, MHP, IYI Party and HDP.
The AK Party has ruled the country since 2002, and is also expected to come first in elections. The AK Party formed the People’s Alliance with the nationalist MHP prior to 2018 general elections, and the two parties are also continuing their alliance in upcoming elections.
The other alliance in local elections is the Nation’s Alliance, formed by the CHP and IYI Party. CHP, which follows a social democrat path, is the main opposition party in the country. The co-founder of the alliance IYI Party is a new party formed prior to the 2018 general elections and holds a centre-right nationalist position.
HDP is the other political party, expected to win some municipalities in the local elections. The party follows a leftist pro-Kurdish ideology.
4) What are the main promises of the major political parties?
Most political parties taking part in election have announced their manifestos for local elections. Although there are hundreds of different promises, a few stand out among the majority of the parties. Most promises touch on issues surrounding transportation, infrastructure, and the environment.
Traffic is a big issue in metropolitan cities, especially Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. Parties promise to build new underground metro lines and strengthen other means of public transportation such as ferries. Moreover, new roads are also promised to solve traffic jams in these cities. Candidates have emphasised the importance of smart technology systems to solve transportation issues.
Environmentally-friendly and green cities are a common theme emphasised by political parties. As such, according to manifestos, all of the candidates will work towards developing large green spaces and parks in city centres.
5) What is the situation in major cities?
Political parties and mayoral candidates give higher priority to races in Turkey’s top three biggest cities: namely Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. Generally, political parties nominate well-known and strong political figures in order to increase their chances of winning in these cities. Parties also pay great attention to the concerns of people living in these cities in their election campaigns and promises.
The AK Party and its predecessor have been governing both Istanbul and Ankara since 1994, while the main opposition party CHP has governed Izmir since 1999.
The race in Istanbul is between AK Party’s candidate Binali Yildirim, former prime minister and speaker of parliament, and CHP’s candidate Ekrem Imamoğlu, Mayor of Istanbul’s Beylikdüzü district.
In Ankara, the AK Party’s candidate Mehmet Ozhaseki, former minister of environment and urban planning runs against CHP’s candidate Mansur Yavas, former mayor of Ankara’s Beypazari district in a close race. In Izmir, Nihat Zeybekci, former minister of economy, is running for the AK Party, and Tunc Soyer, Izmir’s Seferhisar district mayor, is running for CHP.
6) How does the electoral process play out?
Local elections in Turkey are held every five years. Turkish citizens over 18 years old have the right to vote in elections except those who hold certain military positions or are charged in prisons. In the upcoming local elections, almost 58 million voters will be able to cast their votes.
Mayors, municipal council members, provincial assembly members, mukhtars (neighbourhood representatives) and the councils of elders will be elected in local elections.
For the election of the provincial assembly and municipal council, a proportional representation system with a 10 percent election threshold is adopted. For the mayoral election, first-past-the-post system is used.
Unless stated in law, the electorate will vote only in ballot boxes where they are registered. Depending on where an electoral district is located in the country, the counting of the ballots will begin immediately after voting ends - after 4.00 or 5.00pm depending on the city. (13.00 or 14.00 GMT).
7) How are votes cast and regulated?
The Supreme Election Board (YSK) is the top authority responsible for the conduct of all electoral processes in a transparent, equal, fair, and reliable manner. The YSK oversees the entire process from beginning to end and makes all necessary arrangements. Additionally, international and local observers monitor both general and local elections.
The electoral process prior to, during and following the election period, is carried out through an integrated election management system, called SECSIS. This system enables voters and political parties to monitor the whole process throughout Turkey. It also ensures that political parties simultaneously obtain results of the ballot boxes once they are entered into the system after counting. This system secures the conduct of elections in a transparent manner.
Ballot box committees also play a critical role in supervising and documenting the electoral process during and after the elections. Political parties assign one original and one reserve member to these committees, thereby strengthening the transparency and safety of the processes. These committees are also responsible for entering results of the ballots into the SECSIS system.