Istanbul is Turkey, Turkey is Istanbul
President Recep Tayip Erdoğan underlined the importance of Istanbul at the Yenikapı rally ahead of the referendum. “Istanbul is Turkey and Turkey is Istanbul,” he said.
“Istanbul should say ‘yes’ in such a way that everyone with a bad view of Turkey, including those who dirtied this city 99 years ago with their feet, should tremble,” he added.
At the end of the day, the result of the referendum was registered as another electoral victory for Erdoğan. But it is significant that he could not get the support he hoped for from Istanbul, which he has described as “a city that harbors 20 percent of our population.”
The meaning beyond numbers
From the political perspective Istanbul clearly carries a meaning beyond numbers.
Neither Erdoğan nor his policies have ever been left behind in a race in Istanbul since he was first elected Istanbul mayor almost a quarter of a century ago in March 1994, with 25.9 percent of the vote.
Some may think the 51.35 percent “no” vote in Istanbul may not carry much significance, as the overall referendum resulted in a “yes” vote.
But those who have any idea of Erdoğan’s style of politics will confess that the Istanbul result has some consequences.
In 2011 he won 49.8 percent. In the presidential election of 2014 he won 49.84 percent, and in November 2015 he won 48.92 percent of the votes in Istanbul. Now some will definitely have to pay the price for the fact that he came out of the April 16 referendum race with just 48.85 percent in Istanbul, despite support given by the Nationalist Movement Party and the ultranationalist Grand Union Party (BBP).
One can trace the cost I’m talking about in an article penned by presidential advisor İlnur Çevik on the referendum result. “Not everything is rosy and shiny,” Çevik wrote. “The majority of our nation said ‘yes’ to the presidential administrative system ... But the number of those who said ‘no’ should not be underestimated. This needs to be analyzed properly. In some places, especially in Ankara and Istanbul, the AK Party remained weak and ‘yes’ votes were only cast for the sake of Erdoğan.”
The change in 10 neighborhoods
When you look at particular districts, the situation becomes even more interesting.
In 10 neighborhoods where the AKP was prominent in the 2015 elections, the picture has changed and swung toward “no” votes.
What’s more, consider the fact that Üsküdar and Eyüp, which have high symbolic importance as conservative strongholds, are among those where a majority voted “no.” Consider the fact that a vote loss of 10 percent was registered in the Beylikdüzü district. Such a result, despite the support of the MHP and the BBP as well as the huge disproportionality during the campaign period, is certainly significant.
President Erdoğan finished his pre-referendum campaign address in Istanbul’s Kartal neighborhood on April 15, hours before voting started, saying: “I will monitor Kartal tomorrow evening. Let’s see how many ‘yes’ votes come out of the ballot boxes in Kartal.”
In the end, 56.65 percent of the votes in Kartal were “no.” It is significant that in 17 out of Turkey’s 30 biggest cities “no” votes won. It is even more significant that this was the case in Istanbul, particularly for a politician who has said “Istanbul is Turkey and Turkey is Istanbul.”
The other side of the medallion
Meanwhile, it is also possible to read a message for the hopeless, frustrated opposition that is looking for a glimpse of optimism.
If they learn their lessons well, they might be able to draw hope from the three-piece map of Turkey after the referendum, as well as from the result in big cities like Istanbul.
After all, Istanbul is Turkey and Turkey is Istanbul.