Still in power, Turkey’s Erdoğan has time to recover - analysis

Opposition mayor-elect Ekrem İmamoğlu’s victory in Sunday’s Istanbul rerun vote was a personal defeat for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), though the president retains full control over policymaking and has four years to shore up his support, said an analysis for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

“Having openly accused the People’s Republican Party (CHP) candidate of stealing votes in the previous election, while pushing for an ultimately disastrous repeat, which, he predicted on May 2, ‘the AKP is hundred percent sure to win’, Erdoğan clearly made a costly unforced political error,” Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Zeynep Yekeler, Turkey Project research assistant, wrote on Tuesday for CSIS. 

They added that İmamoğlu’s win echoes Erdoğan’s victory in Istanbul a quarter century ago, though it’s unclear whether this result is a harbinger of change or a mere stumble. 

During the rerun campaign, the CHP and its candidate calmly focused on winning again, taking advantage of the sense of aggrievement after the annulment of the March 31 result. The AKP was sluggish and disorganised, and former prime minister Binali Yıldırım, was unable to shed the image of a candidate who didn’t want to be there, according to Aliriza and Yekeler. The result was that the AKP lost votes in all of Istanbul’s 39 districts. 

“With Erdoğan’s seeming invincibility dented, momentum and enthusiasm have shifted away from him,” they said. “Turkey’s biggest city will now be transformed from an AKP fortress to a center of opposition, as İmamoğlu shuts off widespread municipal patronage to AKP members.”

Still, Erdoğan will surely look for ways to undermine the new Istanbul mayor and push back against an emboldened opposition, even while watching out for internal AKP divisions and and keeping an eye on new political parties launched by former comrades. 

“Despite the political wound the Istanbul election constitutes for Erdoğan, it is important to note that he retains full control over all aspects of policymaking at the national level and does not have to contest scheduled elections before 2023,” said Aliriza and Yekeler. “By focusing on major foreign issues, he will attempt to distract attention away from the troubled domestic political scene and economic problems… [and] hope this will enable him to shore up domestic support.”