Erdoğan’s warnings for Istanbul

Erdoğan’s warnings for Istanbul

The Istanbul municipal council will meet to elect a new provincial mayor on Sept. 28.

Istanbul Başakşehir District Mayor Mevlüt Uysal looks set to be elected by the council as the new metropolitan mayor, replacing Kadir Topbaş who resigned on Sept. 22. 

But will Uysal be put forward as the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) nominee in the 2019 local election too? According to AK Party figures, the road will be open for Uysal in 2019 if he puts in a strong performance in the municipality.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is fixated on winning Istanbul’s municipal elections, which he sees as being vital. In a recent consultation meeting Erdoğan reportedly said “if we lose Istanbul, we lose Turkey.” That is why he is keen to play the game with the strongest possible nominee. At the same time, loyalty and devotion are increasingly important values for him. 

So the nominee to become Istanbul’s new mayor must be both loyal and successful. So whoever Erdoğan sees as the strongest candidate will be the nominee in 2019: Either Uysal or Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım.

Yıldırım was recently questioned about rumors that he will become Istanbul’s mayor. “The seat is already full. We already have a job here,” he said in response, without directly saying “no.” But of course, I don’t know what might happen when the times comes.

In the August 2014 presidential election, Erdoğan won in the first round of voting with 51.79 percent of the votes. In Istanbul, however, he received slightly less than the national average, winning 49.83 percent of Istanbul’s votes. 

A similar situation occurred during the April 2017 referendum on shifting to an executive presidential system. While the national average for “Yes” votes came in at 51.4 percent, Istanbul only registered 48.65 percent of votes in favor of “Yes.”

Erdoğan’s warnings

In the recent consultation meeting, President Erdoğan made some critical warnings. 

He warned that with the system change, the bar of success has been raised. While a party could win an election with 40 percent of the votes before, the change means that the winning party has to secure 50 percent-plus one. With 10 million voters in Istanbul, the municipal elections in Istanbul will have a big impact on the national picture. 

Erdoğan told the meeting that “the Islamic world and even the Muslim ummah expects our service,” so all party members should act with such an awareness. In this framework, loyalty to the cause (or “dava”) is paramount, starting with loyalty to the president himself.

He also complained about AK Party members pursuing “personal interests,” saying that such an attitude will cause the party trouble in the elections.

Specifically addressing Istanbul, he ordered MPs to “knock on every Istanbul door,” saying he was not yet satisfied with the current tempo of work.

The Istanbul impact

It is not only Erdoğan who understands that winning Istanbul means winning Turkey. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has also ordered his party to prioritize Istanbul. “Rise above the April referendum results,” he has said. On April 16, the ratio of the “no” votes in Istanbul were higher than the national average, at 51, 53 percent. 

So Istanbul is critical for both sides. Any party that loses control of Istanbul starts to lose power across Turkey. The Motherland Party (ANAP) was born in Istanbul, but when it lost in Istanbul it lost Turkey. 

What’s more, any failure in the local elections scheduled for 2019, with Istanbul being a priority, will skew the presidential election result later the same year.

Erdoğan wants Istanbul to act as a jumping board for the presidential elections, not a sinking stone.