President vs mayor in Istanbul rerun - analyst

The upcoming rerun of the Istanbul mayoral vote will be an unprecedented clash between the country's most powerful politician and a local candidate, and could be a glimpse of Turkey's political future, said an analysis for The Guardian.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) received a major blow on March 31, when opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu declared victory in Istanbul with a very small margin, signalling the end of the 25-year rule of the AKP and its predecessors in Turkey’s financial powerhouse, as well as in its capital Ankara.

The AKP appealed the results, demanding an annulment due to what it said were serious irregularities. The Supreme Election Board (YSK) last week upheld the AKP’s appeal, annulling the Istanbul vote and ordering a fresh vote on June 23.

“Crucially, the board has not publicly disclosed the results of its electoral impact analysis. To rule for an annulment, the board is required to demonstrate that the alleged violations were consequential enough to impact the outcome of the election. Such proof has yet to be shared with voters,” Sinan Ülgen, executive chairman of Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, wrote on Wednesday for the Guardian.

Both sides will likely use a narrative of victimisation to galvanise their supporters, with the AKP arguing that the opposition cheated, and the opposition saying that victory was stolen from them, according to Ülgen.

The Kurdish vote, which backed İmamoğlu last time, will again be key.

“The AKP will try to attract voters by signalling a future softening of government policy on Kurdish issues. The challenge for Erdoğan will be to find a policy shift that would get traction with pro-Kurdish voters in Istanbul while avoiding a backlash among his Turkish nationalist support nationwide,” said Ülgen.

The March 31 results were widely seen as a judgment on Erdoğan’s handling of Turkey’s economic crisis, including the country’s first recession since he took national power 16 years ago. Erdoğan has again chosen to be fully involved, and said he will stage more than 30 rallies before the vote.

“For the first time in the history of the country, the president is pitting himself against a local candidate. That is how important the race in Istanbul has become – and it may be a glimpse of how Turkey’s future confrontations over executive power could play out," said Ülgen.