Turkish opposition calls for 'Istanbul alliance' in election rerun

The decision by Turkey’s Supreme Election Council (YSK) to cancel and rerun the mayoral election in Istanbul has deepened rifts in Turkey’s political arena and led to a wave of outrage from opposition circles.

Ekrem İmamoğlu, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) politician who was stripped of his mayor’s mandate by the decision, called May 6 a “black day for democracy” and an unprecedented sacrifice of the country’s interests for the “personal fear and ambition of one man”.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who came to prominence when elected as the mayor of Istanbul in 1994, had pushed the YSK to cancel the election days before the decision was announced, and on Monday said the board had worked in the best interests of democracy.

But the CHP Party Assembly hit back by asking why the YSK, which justified its decision by saying electoral boards had failed to meet regulations in appointing polling officials, had not also cancelled the various other votes for local administrations cast in the same envelopes as the votes for mayor.

CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu criticised the seven out of 11 YSK members who voted to cancel the election, accusing them of collaborating with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in a plot against Turkish democracy.

“Ekrem İmamoğlu from this day on is not the candidate for the CHP, but for the 16 million people of Istanbul”, he said.

As the CHP assembly gathered to debate the YSK decision at an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday, reports emerged that Selin Sayek Böke, Ali Şeker and İlhan Cihaner, deputies from the party’s left wing, had proposed boycotting the rerun, which is scheduled for June 23.

Word from the assembly indicated that the proposal failed to gain traction.

Uğur Bayraktutan, another member of the party assembly, argued a boycott would be meaningless unless the CHP’s deputies also resigned from parliament en masse. Anything else, he said, would simply erode voters’ trust in the party and hand the AKP an easy victory.

Speaking against the calls for a boycott, Kılıçdaroğlu said that, more than a simple mayoral election, the YSK’s decision had turned the Istanbul rerun into a struggle for law, democracy and power. A boycott, he said, would be pointless under these circumstances.

The CHP leader stressed the rerun gave the opposition an historic opportunity to build a barrier against “one-man dictatorship” under Erdoğan, and called for the entire party to redouble its efforts for success on June 23.

“Do what you will, we are going to come out of this election with an even greater success,” Kılıçdaroğlu said in a message to the YSK board members. “June 23 will be a golden day for our democracy. Everything is going to be great,” he said, using the phrase that has become İmamoğlu’s motto.

The reactions from Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu to the YSK’s ruling shone a light once again on the extent of polarisation in Turkey. While Erdoğan lauded the board for “clearing the way for democracy and showing the power of (Turkey’s) state of law”, the CHP leader described the decision as a “coup against the ballot box” that had “massacred democracy and the law”.

With no common ground between the two camps, the tension is bound to rise to extreme levels in the run up to the election.

During a meeting in Ankara with Meral Akşener, whose nationalist Good Party partners the CHP in an electoral alliance, İmamoğlu hinted there may be revelations about the wrongdoings of ruling party officials.

“In the coming days we will announce the mistakes made by certain people before the public,” İmamoğlu said. Some have speculated that during the weeks the CHP mayor held the reins in Istanbul he may have had access to evidence of corruption from the decades of AKP control of the city.

Besides that, İmamoğlu is expected to continue in the warm and inclusive style that brought him success the first time round, and signalled his desire to seek votes from every section of Istanbul’s 16 million of voters in his speech after the YSK’s decision on Monday night, calling for an “Istanbul alliance” rather than the “Nation Alliance” the opposition formed before March 31.

This could prove decisive in the second race. Voters from smaller parties may well choose İmamoğlu this time around, even if those parties do not withdraw from the race in the CHP candidate’s favour.

 

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.