Local elections are a measure of the strength of Turkey’s democracy

High voter turnout in local elections can demonstrate that the Turkish people are deeply invested in their democracy.

Turkey’s local elections this Sunday are expected to have the highest participation rate ever. There’s the potential involvement of 57 million registered Turkish voters who will go to the ballots to elect mayors, mukhtars and members of local assemblies for five years.

One of the most critical measures of a functioning democracy is political participation. The level of engagement of citizens in politics directly determines the quality of democracy and the voter turnout is considered as a fundamental indicator of a healthy democracy.

In Turkey, the 2019 local elections represent the first elections since the country formally transitioned to the presidential system of government after the general elections held in June 2018. The country’s major political parties formed alliances last year, as the new system required a simple majority to win

The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has allied with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), in a bloc known as the People’s Alliance. Its opposition, the Nation Alliance, brought together the Republican People’s Party (CHP) alongside the right-wing IYI Party.

The AK Party and the MHP jointly endorsed candidates in 51 provinces, and many counties, the CHP and the IYI Party adopted the same strategy in 50 provinces. Local elections in Turkey have tradition­ally been not just a means to shape local governments but also an opportunity to restore the public’s confidence in national politics. As a consequence, this Sunday’s elections could gauge the temperature of Turkish politics in general.

Turkish people take political participation very seriously because they believe it gives them a voice in the administration of the country. As a result, it is expected that the voter turnout to be on the rise once more.

Turkey has a high voter turnout in comparison with other democracies. The rate can be as twice as high compared to other countries. For instance, Turkey had an 87 percent turnout in the presidential and parliamentary election, which took place in June 2018.

In contrast, the rate was 61 percent in the United States during the 2016 presidential election, according to data from the US Census Bureau. Political participation offers citizens in a democracy the opportunity to raise their concerns and express their choices – and to put pressure on them to keep their promises.

Since the AK Party’s entry into Turkish politics in 2002, voter turnout has risen, and civil society has become more involved, better mobilised and more dynamic. The party has used the accession process to the European Union as an opportunity to introduce several reforms.

Thanks to these reforms, voters have more choices and have direct channels of communication with the municipality and other local administration officials. Engaging with locals to identify pressing issues, recognise popular demands, and manage expectations has also allowed authorities to understand better citizens’ aspirations – which has made it possible for local government to adopt a solution-oriented ap­proach to governance. This, in turn, gave even more reason for citizens to vote.

The widespread participation of Turkish citizens in political processes is a significant milestone for ensuring a more robust Turkish democracy. Voting should be regarded as a duty, one which involves a certain degree of responsibility towards oneself and the community.

When citizens vote, they have a direct say on every aspect of their lives from free access to welfare, education, economic stability and so on. By voting, they can help to influence governance.

It’s vital to vote in all elections, whether local or general elections. This is essential to strengthening democracy and maintaining political freedoms which allow greater social and economic equality.

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