Strategies for Istanbul rerun
With five weeks to go until municipal polls in Istanbul, the two main contenders, Binali Yıldırım of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Ekrem İmamoğlu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), have been stepping up their campaigns in the past week.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who also is AKP chairman, has yet to fully engage in the pre-election campaign, though he continues to deliver his messages on Istanbul elections on a daily basis. CHP’s Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu prefers not to cast a shadow on İmamoğlu’s campaign and pursues rather low-profile visibility as he did prior to March 31 polls.
Given the experiences from the March 31 polls, both sides are trying to adopt the best strategies to increase their votes and secure a comfortable win. The first thing both Yıldırım and İmamoğlu have decided to work on seems to be those who did not vote in March polls, which is about more than 1.7 million voters.
Only in Esenyurt district, the number of those who did not participate in voting has been registered as around 100,000. A long-time AKP stronghold, the control of this district has passed to the CHP in March. The AKP officials argue many of these 1.7 million voters are affiliated with the AKP, and their strategy will be based on convincing them to vote on June 23. In this respect, an increase in the turnout is regarded as a bonus for the AKP.
İmamoğlu will have no problem in consolidating his electoral base, but given the fact that the difference between him and Yıldırım is just more than 13,000 votes, even a small mobilization in the AKP’s popular support would reverse the picture. İmamoğlu’s positive language, dynamism and ability to reach out to different political groups are his advantages.
His campaign trailer is more or less with March polls, but he now depicts himself as the elected mayor of Istanbul whose mandate was taken by a politically-driven court ruling. He is also taking advantage of his 18-day mayoralty as he reveals how the resources of the Istanbul Municipality have been distributed to various government-linked groups.
Therefore, he hopes to attract more voters from the AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) to shift positions and put the stamp for him on June 23.
A new phenomenon highly debated among the political actors nowadays is the government’s abrupt decision to allow the imprisoned leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, to meet with his lawyers after eight years and to be visited by an anti-torture delegation from the Council of Europe.
The motive of these debates is to link these developments with the AKP government’s ambition to regain the votes of the Turkish citizens with Kurdish descent who overwhelmingly supported İmamoğlu in March polls.
As can be recalled, the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) did not represent a candidate in March and lent indirect support to the CHP’s candidate. HDP officials have underlined that this decision has not changed, and they will continue to support İmamoğlu on June 23.
Given the fact that a number of elected mayors from the ranks of the HDP has been denied from taking office in a controversial ruling by the election watchdog and that the government’s unwillingness to return to negotiations for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question is still there, a radical change in the pro-Kurdish party prior to Istanbul polls seems unlikely.
Being aware of it, the AKP officials tend to approach the community and business leaders of conservative Kurds in Istanbul and in the southeastern Anatolian to convince them to vote for Yıldırım.
The CHP is also aware of these developments and is unlikely to leave the room for the AKP. Kılıçdaroğlu’s latest address to his parliamentary group was important in that respect as he raised the situation of the HDP mayors as a very severe breach of democratic norms. He also condemned the government’s measures against the Saturday Mothers whose years-long protests have been prevented by the police.
The real intensification of the Istanbul campaign will start after the Ramadan fest, between the period of June 10 and 23. President Erdoğan has already declared that he will be personally be involved in the process and will hold a hectic campaign in almost all districts of the city, as he once said: “If we lose Istanbul, we lose Turkey.”
Erdoğan, whose long political career began with a big victory in Istanbul local polls in 1994, will surely exert his utmost effort and care for the renewed elections in June at the expense of turning it into a race between him and İmamoğlu.