Quo vadis Turkey?
The much-anticipated and unexpectedly strong reelection of Ekrem İmamoğlu to the seat of Istanbul metropolitan mayoral post will most probably be remembered in the years ahead as a turning point in the history of Turkish democracy.
The 9.2 percent difference between the votes drawn by mayor-elect İmamoğlu and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate, also a former premier and parliament speaker, Binali Yıldırım clearly demonstrated the democracy commitment of the Turkish electorate.
The foremost factor that produced this result was perhaps the discontent among the grassroots of the ruling coalition with the way the March 31 vote for Istanbul mayor was cancelled while the city council and district mayor votes cast in the same ballot boxes were considered legally valid.
In the March 31 elections, which was annulled by the Supreme Election Council (YSK), there was an around 13,000 vote difference between the two candidates. The 9.2 percent, or almost 800,000 vote difference, in the rerun between the votes received by winner İmamoğlu and loser Yıldırım showed indeed a very strong disapproval by not only opposition citizens but also by traditional AKP and its partner Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) voters the way the March 31 vote was annulled.
This reaction of the electorate might produce some long-term consequences against the AKP as it might have a reflection in the parliamentary ranks as well.
The second most important factor that affected the election result was the hope that stability-eager average Turkish voters would buy the systematic alienation and polarization tactics pursued by some government members in hopes that, like in the past, polarization would serve primarily to the ruling coalition. The rather arrogant rhetoric regarding the ethnic background of İmamoğlu that reached (of course being Greek should not be an insult) the extent of calling people from the Black Sea region Greek. That hate speech consolidated the Black Sea support for İmamoğlu.
The third equally important factor was the “blame the other” tactics. They did not work. They blamed İmamoğlu for getting support from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), accusing him of collaborating with the PKK, thus terrorists, while getting a declaration from jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, all the while calling on people to vote for Yıldırım—against a backdrop of Öcalan’s former PKK militant brother “reminding” people of the reforms undertaken by the AKP for the Kurdish rights while he blamed the CHP of never undertaking a reform program. On the contrary such an action probably served to consolidate civilian leadership of the HDP and strengthened the Kurdish support for İmamoğlu.
The result of the Istanbul vote as well will have impacts on the foreign policy of the country. Turkey exhausting its resources to a “tension with all” mentality left it almost with no friends. This foreign policy perspective – or indeed the absence of a disciplined foreign policy – can no longer be sustainable due to the worsening economic situation of the country.
In any country, where voter behavior is mostly shaped by the pocket of the electorate. No one can say that the Turkish electorate on June 23 were better off compared to March 31. No one can as well convince Turks that tomorrow will bring a better economic performance as long as some sort of a moderation is undertaken. The June 23 vote, most probably, is a warning of the electorate to the administration of the country that rather than a single-handed governance, the country should move to a more participation political rule.
Lastly, the tension and polarization-based politics lost on Sunday, while hope for the future and an urge for tranquility won.
With people embracing their democracy so strongly, Turkey has made a new start.