After the cancellation of March 31, 2019 local elections in Istanbul, Istanbulite voters went to polls again today. Pro-secular Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) candidate Mr. Ekrem İmamoğlu (49), this time clinched a decisive victory with 54 % of the votes against ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Parti) candidate and former Prime Minister Mr. Binali Yıldırım’s (64) 45 %. İmamoğlu won the first election also with less than 14,000 votes, but the election was later cancelled by the Higher Electoral Board due to lack of public official personnel in some of ballot box committees. Amazing increase in Mr. İmamoğlu’s votes (he took almost 800,000 more votes than Yıldırım this time) just in three months proves that the cancellation of the first election was not approved by Turkish people. By doing this, Turkish people also gave a strong message to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and to the rest of the world about their insistence on free and fair elections and democracy. In my opinion, Istanbul results show that Turkish democracy is still alive and Turkish people deserve a good functioning democracy.
In my opinion, this humiliating defeat for AK Parti in Istanbul’s municipal election might be a turning point in Turkish Politics especially concerning AK Parti and President Erdoğan’s power. There are several reasons for this claim. First of all, once considered as champion of democracy for fighting against Kemalist regime’s restrictive political attitude (Erdoğan was once imprisoned in Turkey for reading an Islamist poem), now President Erdoğan and his party represents authoritarianism in Turkey. President Erdoğan is even considered by the majority of people as the person who ordered the cancellation of the first election. Moreover, Turkish democracy is not doing fine in recent years due to increasing restrictive, authoritarian and Islamist policies of the government. Main opposition party CHP on the contrary, is now considered as a hope for democracy with young and bright (culturally) conservative and (politically-ideologically) social democratic candidates such as Mr. İmamoğlu. CHP’s hardliner secularist single-party years on the other hand are now considered as a historical period rather than a contemporary political issue by most of the people. Secondly, Turkish political history teaches us that right-wing populist parties with charismatic leaders (Adnan Menderes’ Democratic Party, Süleyman Demirel’s Justice Party, Turgut Özal’s Motherland Party and lastly President Erdoğan’s JDP) perform well as long as the economy is good, but once the economic downward trend begins, they can be easily dissolved or divided. Since Turkish economy is not performing well in the last two years, after the loss of Istanbul, the heartland of Turkish economy, President Erdoğan might not be able to keep his party and voters united. It should not be forgotten that former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister from AK Parti, Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu is ready for establishing his new party alongside with previous President Mr. Abdullah Gül and former Minister of Economy Mr. Ali Babacan. So, President Erdoğan has to keep his party and electorate solid and unified in the next few months in order to prevent a possible fragmentation. Thirdly, since AK Parti’s political power in Istanbul is partly based on social aid (distribution) system for needy people organized by the municipality, the loss of Istanbul might further decrease the party’s popularity and electoral support. In any case, President Erdoğan has to stay confident and calm and should focus on new strategies for fixing the Turkish economy. President Erdoğan could also adopt a nationalist rhetoric in terms of Cyprus Dispute and Eastern Mediterranean politics in order to keep his Turkish nationalist support alive (mainly MHP-Nationalist Action Party). President Erdoğan might also try to rejuvenate his party by choosing new ministers and deputies.
According to regular schedule, the next Presidential and parliamentary election in Turkey will be organized in 2023. However, ongoing economic crisis and foreign policy troubles might force President Erdoğan to call for early elections before 2023. Moreover, CHP -long years after- for the first time now has a serious contender against Erdoğan. If Mr. İmamoğlu could perform well as the new Istanbul municipal leader, he could be a tough opponent against Erdoğan in the next Presidential election. I think CHP’s current chair Mr. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu could also endorse İmamoğlu in addition to Meral Akşener and her Good Party (İYİ Parti). So, Mr. İmamoğlu is now a potential Presidential candidate for the opposition concerning the next election. İmamoğlu showed his respect to Erdoğan after winning the election and said that he is ready to work with him in harmony. Erdoğan on the other hand accepted the defeat and congratulated İmamoğlu. This is a positive development for Turkish Politics since politicians (especially Mr. Erdoğan) often use polarization methods.
Istanbul election showed once again Turkish people’s support for democracy and proved that authoritarian political systems would not be stable in Turkey. That is why, I think Turkish people deserve more support from other democracies.
Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ