Ilhan Tanir
Jun 23 2019

The 5 winners and losers of Sunday's Istanbul revote

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was going to lose the June 23 Istanbul mayoral revote either way. In the unlikely event of ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate Binali Yıldırım winning by a slight margin, headlines would have read Erdoğan cancelled the legitimate elections he lost and won the re-run with various tricks. His democratic credentials, whatever is left of them, would have been eternally damaged. He would have been labelled the leader who renewed elections until he managed to score a victory.

Instead, Erdoğan's AKP lost by an almost 10 percent difference this time. We are now facing an İmamoğlu who, according to unofficial results, scored 500,000 more votes than March 31, as opposed to Yıldırım, whose votes dropped by over 250,000.

What happened in İstanbul is unlikely to stay in Istanbul.

For now, the losers of June 23 are as follows:

The losers:

Erdoğan:

Of course Erdoğan tops the list. I have said and wrote from day one that the decision to renew the election was the biggest mistake the Turkish president made since coming to power. This was verified with the June 23 results. His limited hand regarding the economy limits what Erdoğan can do post-Istanbul. The never-ending election cycle since 2013 is now over. However, it has ended in a great defeat, kicking off a process where Erdoğan’s leadership will come into question.

AKP:

AKP, having lost the moral high ground on March 31, now lost the upper hand in votes. It has now been proven that the AKP has lost the ability to deliver a message in discipline. The AKP machine runs no more.

AKP media:

This great success by the opposition, despite all of the media resources of the leading party, proves once again that the AKP’s media power is becoming increasingly unsuccessful in creating public opinion.

Binali Yıldırım:

Binali Yıldırım, who lost by 0.2 pct on March 31, suffered a 9 pct loss on Sunday. He was going to retire as the Speaker of the Parliament (his last job) and the last prime minister of Turkey. Instead, he will be remembered a politician who ran on the lies and tricks of the party that canceled the legitimate elections on March 31.

MHP ve Devlet Bahçeli:

The ultra-nationalist coalition partner of AKP became useless in Istanbul elections. Bahçeli stayed away, as much as possible, in order not to further scare the Kurds. It appears that the nationalist-Islamist coalition can no longer deliver in Turkey's three largest cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, as well as most of other metropolitan cities. Their residents are sick and tired of listening nationalist populism. They are poorer, angrier and want politicians who can deliver.

The winners:

İmamoğlu:

A new leader is born. Until now, Erdoğan didn’t have any viable rivals to challenge his charisma and winning streaks. Now he does. And one who defeated him twice, no less. İmamoğlu has handed Erdoğan two defeats in a mere 2.5 months. If he had been allowed to assume office following March 31 elections, İmamoglu would have only been a local politician who unexpectedly won the mayoral seat of a giant city. Now, however, the whole world got to know him as a viable leader, whose discourse is modern and contains terms in love and unity, rather than polarisation.

Conscience and democracy:

A campaign predicated on lies with regard to the cancellation of the March 31 election, was confronted by the consciences of the people and destroyed. The biggest reason for the defeat of Erdoğan’s government is AKP’s exhaustion, wastage, corruption and frustration with Erdoğan. However, the 9 percentage difference in victory as compared to the March 31 election is a reaction to the injustice committed after the first vote. The people of Turkey are neither a ‘noble, chosen or divine’ people, nor are they ‘cruel, callous and unjust’ people. The pockets of the people, which suffered a strong economic blow, were accompanied by their consciences after the unjust annulment of the March 31 election. There is no fair election in Turkey, neither in Istanbul. The governing party has a domination over state resources. It is a soccer game in which one team plays both halves of the match downhill with the referee in its pocket. However, despite these factors, if the opponent team has enough will and energy, it can still beat back the governing team. This is what happened again on June 23.

CHP and Kılıçdaroğlu:

CHP's leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu deserves credit for having courage to bring a young local district mayor and pushing him forth as a major challenger. İmamoğlu is brave for reaching out to other members of the political spectrum. All praise goes to Kılıçdaroğlu for allowing him to run the campaign he wanted. CHP wins Istanbul for the first time after decades. A big win indeed.

Pro-Kurdish HDP:

The pro-Kurdish HDP's critics, be it AKP or its ultra-nationalist coalition partner MHP, and others have been accusing the party of PKK links that cannot say "no" to outlawed organisation, designated a terrorist organisation by the United States and Turkey. Four days before the election, however, the imprisoned leader of PKK Abdullah Öcalan, despite the fact that former leader of HDP called for support for the opposition candidate Imamoglu, sent a letter and calling on Kurds to remain politically neutral.

The HDP, even on the election day, refused to bow to this order and its co-chairs showed up ballot boxes to vote. At the end of the day, Kurds appeared to be voting for Imamoglu with more conviction than before, not paying heed to Öcalan's message.

Kurds:

Kurds enforced their image as the kingmakers in Istanbul twice ove a period of 2.5 months. They appear to continue their role as the playmaker in the elections. Turkey now has an presidential system and a candidate must have over 50 percent of the vote. That might make Kurds a precious minority in constant need of being courted and might also provide Turkey the chance of seeking peace going forward.  

We have witnessed an earthquake in Istanbul. Whatever Erdoğan and his governing coalition say or think, this disaster will not stay confined to Istanbul. 

On May 6 I wrote that Erdoğan had made the biggest strategic mistake he ever made in his political life by ordering a revote in Istanbul. He will face the consequences of this decision. From now on, his decisions will be questioned more vocally and his orders will be met with more suspicion as he has lost his invincibility. 

Erdoğan's lucky winning streak has come to an end. And everyone knows it.