Turkey’s CHP has chance to be national contender - analysis

New Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu and his fellow main opposition party mayors should aim to build on their success by governing honestly and effectively while girding themselves for retribution from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), said an analysis for the National Interest. 

“Corruption and the plunder of Istanbul’s resources by the AKP were important reasons for its defeat,” Gerald F. Hyman, non-resident senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote on Sunday for the conservative U.S. news outlet, referring to the June 23 rerun vote. 

Istanbul was one of five of Turkey’s six largest cities to vote in opposition mayors in this year’s local elections.

“Effective and honest governance is the key to electoral victory everywhere, but the citizens of Istanbul will be particularly eagle-eyed now that they have reversed the status quo ante and elected a candidate running primarily on that platform,” he added. 

Secondly, Hyman urged İmamoğlu and the Republican People’s Party (CHP) to avoid pushing their secular views too hard, and instead respect Turkey’s large devout population that is the core of the AKP constituency. “İmamoğlu and the CHP should now demonstrate commitment to inclusive democracy and establish their mettle for national leadership,” he said. 

Third, İmamoğlu and other new CHP mayors in cities like Ankara should prepare for the AKP to act vindictively and deny them as many resources as possible, criticise them often and put other obstacles in their path, according to Hyman. The best response, he argues, is informing the public of the ruling party’s actions. 

“Citizens are not stupid,” said Hyman. “They will see through any attempt to sabotage the new mayors on whose municipal functions and resources they (especially the urban poor) depend. And they will blame Erdoğan when appropriate.”

Lastly, he argued that the new CHP mayors have a golden opportunity to rebuild the party into a legitimate national contender, and must reach out to rural and pious voters as well as minorities like the Kurds. 

The CHP is the country’s main opposition party, but its voter base is confined mainly to western and coastal regions, and its share of the national vote has been limited to 30 percent or less for more than a decade.

“It is too early to tell whether the mayoral elections mark a turning point for Erdoğan within the AKP and, for the AKP, within the larger Turkish political system,” said Hyman, wondering how the president will address the troubled economy and how he might respond to the emergence of former AKP allies as new political rivals. 

“Will there be greater contestation within the AKP and within Turkey as a whole or greater concentration of power to avoid that contestation?” asked Hyman. “To what extent, if any, has the Turkish electorate, especially younger voters, turned away from identity politics and communal determinism?”