Istanbul polls launch a new, different era for Turkish politics
The result of the re-run elections in Istanbul was almost certain on the night of May 6, when the Supreme Election Council (YSK) canceled the March 31 election results, and therefore the victory of the oppositional candidate, Ekrem İmamoğlu, upon the appeals of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
Some key reasons can be cited here: First and most important, the YSK’s justification to the annulment of İmamoğlu’s win was far from convincing to the Turkish public opinion. It was a big blow on the sense of justice and conscience and created an even bigger sympathy for İmamoğlu as the sufferer of this controversial judicial decision.
The growing vote difference between İmamoğlu and the AKP’s Binali Yıldırım has proven that even those who had cast their votes for the latter in the March polls have changed their side on Sunday. That’s how İmamoğlu increased his votes by more than half a million in less than six weeks.
The second point worth mentioning is the deepening clumsiness on the AKP side when it comes to generating new policies and strategies to change people’s perspectives. The latest Kurdish move, for example, has been observed to be very destructive.
A letter signed by terrorist leader Abdullah Öcalan days before the polls that called on the Kurdish voters to stay neutral simply did not work. To the contrary, it further caused defection of some nationalist votes while consolidating Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) members to stand with İmamoğlu. Accompanied by deteriorated economic conditions, the AKP’s narrative has nearly zeroed its efficiency in controlling and shaping public opinion.
Erdoğan has to take İmamoğlu more seriously
It’s for sure that both camps, the People’s Alliance of the AKP and MHP and the Nation’s Alliance of the CHP and the İYİ (Good) Party will elaborate the results of Istanbul polls from their perspectives and future achievements.
President and AKP chairman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will sure have to think over the main reasons for this defeat in Istanbul, twice in less than three months. Istanbul, with its more than 10 million voters, represents one-fifth of the entire Turkey, and any growing political trend in this city would resonate in the rest of the country.
Plus, Erdoğan will have to take the CHP’s Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu much more seriously. İmamoğlu’s victory in Istanbul in the 2019 polls resemble in many ways Erdoğan’s rise as a young and dynamic politician in 1994 as the elected mayor of Istanbul. In the last six months, İmamoğlu has proven to be a soft-spoken, yet a strong, young, wise, dynamic and calm social democrat, all the while open to reaching out to all different political and social groups.
Difficulties for the AKP
İmamoğlu’s first statement Sunday night was important in this regard. He issued an open call to President Erdoğan that he was ready to cooperate for the resolution of the urgent problems of Istanbul. The Nation Alliance has taken the results of this partnership and will likely continue it for the next presidential and parliamentary elections in 2023, if not before.
Another serious problem for Erdoğan would happen in the event that dissidents like Abdullah Gül, Ali Babacan and Ahmet Davutoğlu decide to form a political party and attract a number of parliamentarians from the AKP. This result in Istanbul is believed to further encourage Gül and Babacan to accelerate their works to institutionalize their movement.
Considering that the Turkish economy would face a new set of sanctions from the United States on the deployment of the S-400s, all these alternative political movements will find a much better opportunity to be heard in the public eye.
In light of all these, Erdoğan needs to be rather radical in his measures to avoid further weakening. A reshuffle in the government and at the AKP organizations as well as the re-calibration of foreign policy and economy seem to be inevitable to this end.
A new era
This process has helped Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the CHP, and Meral Akşener of the İYİ (Good) Party to strengthen their seats. This model of the alliance helped the opposition more than the AKP-MHP duo as other opposition parties like the HDP and the Felicity (Saadet) Party could also join.
As a result of Sunday’s polls, İmamoğlu has been elected as Istanbul mayor by garnering around 55 percent of votes, one of the highest opposition records in recent elections. As the owner of the saying “Those who win Istanbul, win Turkey,” Erdoğan has been subject to one of the most painful defeats of his long political career.
This signal is a new, but a much more different era for Turkish politics. The rise of İmamoğlu as a new generation politician was registered once again on Sunday, with prospects that he will certainly build his reputation as Istanbul mayor.
Although it’s too early to make a presumption on what may come next, arguing that nothing will be same will not be an exaggeration.