AKP changes strategy for Istanbul rerun polls

AKP changes strategy for Istanbul rerun polls

With less than two weeks to go to the Istanbul rerun elections, a remarkable change in the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) strategy is being observed. An earlier plan of the AKP was to intensify the election campaign following the long Eid al-Fitr holiday with the utmost involvement of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

There were reports suggesting that Erdoğan was intending to hold rallies in almost all districts of Istanbul in a bid to call on the voters to support the AKP’s nominee, Binali Yıldırım. A revised plan, however, stipulates a less visible Erdoğan in Istanbul and rules out a joint rally with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader, Devlet Bahçeli.

Bahçeli, who also had said that he would set up his headquarters in Istanbul after the holiday to back Yıldırım, has seemingly changed his mind.

One of the reasons for this change is the assessment at the AKP that the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate, Ekrem İmamoğlu, takes the advantage in turning the Istanbul polls into an election between him and Erdoğan. Therefore, by pulling Erdoğan out of the scene, AKP officials believe that İmamoğlu will have difficulties in consolidating his votes.

Another reason why the AKP has resorted to this way may be because of the not so promising results of the public opinion surveys on the Istanbul polls. As they suggest that İmamoğlu is still ahead of Yıldırım, saving Erdoğan from a potential loss is what the AKP eyes. 

In a political environment in which Erdoğan will be less active, the AKP wants to put Yıldırım’s moderate and calm political character forward. His campaign often mentions his performances as a transportation minister and the big projects he has carried out.

A recent decision by the AKP to permit Yıldırım to appear on a live TV debate with İmamoğlu should also be considered within this context. The last TV debate of this kind had taken place between Erdoğan and former CHP chair Deniz Baykal before the 2002 general elections. There was a general ban on all AKP officials not to participate in any TV debate together with the representatives of rival political parties.

In addition to all these, and at the same time, there is a great effort to tarnish the positive image that İmamoğlu has been displaying since he was nominated as the CHP’s Istanbul candidate.

Apart from all these, Yıldırım and other senior AKP officials continue their efforts to approach conservative Kurds in Istanbul and in the southeastern Anatolian provinces to attract their votes. Yıldırım’s use of the word “Kurdistan” and “Lazistan” in a statement during a trip to Diyarbakır in recent days has created controversy, particularly on the MHP’s side. 

“There is no Kurdistan or Lazistan in Turkey,” Bahçeli said on his Twitter account on June 10, in an indirect response to Yıldırım. Bahçeli also said that he won’t watch the TV debate between İmamoğlu and Yıldırım because of the choice of journalist İsmail Küçükkaya as the moderator of the debate. However, the real reason why Bahçeli said this is believed to be his anger towards Yıldırım’s recent statement on “Kurdistan.”

The CHP side seems to be comfortable and certain of İmamoğlu’s win, this time with a bigger vote difference. Kılıçdaroğlu does not want to heavily engage in the campaign, leaving the scene entirely to İmamoğlu. But a good share of the CHP lawmakers have already been deployed to Istanbul to lend support to the election campaign.

The cancellation of İmamoğlu’s victory by the Supreme Election Board (YSK) is still one of the main items of his election campaign with a purpose to mobilize the sense of justice in the hearts of the Istanbul voters.

The election results on June 23 will show which of these strategies will prevail.

Serkan Demirtaş, Binali Yıldırım, Ekrem İmamoğlu, istanbul polls