Ruling AKP could stain Turkish democracy by rejecting Istanbul result

Istanbul is the largest city and economic engine driving Turkey, but this alone does not explain the symbolic blow it would mean if Turkey’s ruling party on Sunday loses what has been President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “fiefdom” for 25 years, French specialist Turkey scholar Henri Barker wrote in an op-ed for Emirati daily the National.v

However, the contest could be remembered as a major blow to Turkish democracy if the ruling party decides the city is too important to give up, Barkey said.

Erdoğan won the Istanbul mayoral contest in 1994, and he cemented his place as a major player in Turkish politics during his four-year rule of the city.

In the 25 years since then, the city has been controlled exclusively by mayors from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its Islamist predecessors, who have enjoyed control over a valuable symbolic prize – the seat of Ottoman imperial power – and the country’s richest city, called by Barkey a “cash cow” for the AKP.

The victory of main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu in the March 31 local elections this year briefly wrested power from the ruling party, until the Supreme Election Council annulled the election on May 6 after accepting an appeal from the AKP.

Recent polls have put İmamoğlu in the lead for the rerun of the election this Sunday, though Erdoğan, who holds unparalleled authority in Turkey, could well choose not to accept an opposition victory, Barkey said.

"Ultimately, the choice is Mr Erdogan’s: he can accept the loss of Istanbul and use it to engage in a new dialogue, especially at a time when Turkey is confronted by a potentially severe economic crisis and downturn that will test everyone’s resolve", the scholar said.

“Alternatively, he (Erdoğan) can continue to pursue the current course that delegitimises all political activity other than his own, in which case the June 23 elections will be remembered as a turning point in modern Turkish history – perhaps as significant as the 1960 military coup that overthrew the first democratically elected government”, Barkey said.