Istanbul revote will shape future of Turkey -analyst

Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming Istanbul mayoral election revote, it is clear that Turkey has entered a new period, where the rule of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is no longer uncontested and he has gained a new formidable rival in the opposition ranks, wrote Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. 

Turkey’s ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost four of the five most populous provinces in the country in the March 31 polls, marking the greatest defeat for the party in its 17 years in power.

Istanbul, where  the candidate for the secularist opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Ekrem İmamoğlu won, putting an end to 25 years of Islamist rule in the city, is set for a redo next month, after Erdoğan’s ruling party appealed the polls. 

"A city of 16 million people, Istanbul has been the centrepiece of AKP’s financial system and social networks since 1994 – when a young Erdogan became mayor and started his march to power. Few suspected that Erdogan could lose an election there,’’ Aydıntaşbaş wrote.

The move by the AKP to persuade Turkey’s electoral board to void the Istanbul result due to alleged irregularities, she wrote, worked to bring together cross-section of Turkish society, including former AKP heavyweights such as Ahmet Davutoğlu and Abdullah Gül, all of who saw the decision to annul the vote a violation justice.

Pollsters maintain that the 48-year-old CHP candidate, is starting the new electoral race a few points higher than where he left off, the article said.

Strategies such as capitalising on economic dissatisfaction and reacting calm reaction to a series of vote recounts, have earned 49-year-old broad respect, doubling his Twitter followers after the polls and  increasing his Instagram followers by 118 percent within the last month

The secularist CHP must now roll up its sleeves to ‘’sustain the delicate balance between secularists, conservative dissidents, and more than one million Kurdish voters (comprising roughly 11-12 percent of the voting public) who are upset about Erdogan’s alliance with the hard-line Nationalist Movement Party and his threats to eradicate Syrian Kurdish administrations on Turkey’s borders,’’ Aydıntaşbaş opined.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s strongman is under pressure due to challenges from Russia and Syria, and Ankara’s increasingly problematic relations with relations with the West.

İmamoglu has thus far been quite successful in setting himself apart from Erdogan’s divisive rhetoric on internal and external enemies, the article added, and has a good chance of winning again if he can keep to the moral high ground and avoid offending the Kurds and disgruntled conservatives in bolstering his secularist vote.

There are increasing reports that Turkey’s strongman will engage in a foreign military adventure, such as another incursion into northern Syria, as the country counts down to the polls, Aydıntaşbaş wrote, in addition to  fear that political tension in the country will lead to street demonstrations and chaos.

On the other hand, nothing may happen before June 23 as AKP’s Istanbul mayoral candidate Binali Yildirim attempts to find a delicate balance to create a winning coalition like his rival İmamoğlu, the article said.

Erdoğan, known for pragmatism and political wizardry,  could possibly distance himself from his ultranationalist allies, Aydıntaşbaş wrote, perhaps even attempt a pivot to Europe, or try to reopen long-delayed talks with imprisoned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan.

Turkey will wait and see. But one thing is for sure, the article noted, and that is six weeks is not sufficient time to solve the country’s problems.