A weakened strongman in Turkey - Guardian

Despite the ruling party’s continuing dispute over the Istanbul mayoral result, there is no doubt about the blow dealt to Turkey’s authoritarian president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the March 31 local elections, British newspaper The Guardian said in an editorial.

“He has asserted the legitimacy of his increasingly repressive rule on the basis of his success at the ballot box. He did more than anyone to inflate the stakes and personalise this contest," the Guardian said on Sunday, "He called it a matter of “national survival”, portrayed opponents as traitors and terrorists, and held up to eight rallies a day.”

“Now the public has delivered its verdict. Though the AKP won most votes, the apparent loss of the major cities, on an 84 percent turnout, has sent the clearest of messages.”

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) easily won the capital, Ankara. Its victory in Istanbul was much narrower, said the Guardian, and much more humiliating for Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

That city is Turkey’s largest, and the country’s economic powerhouse, as well as Erdoğan’s birthplace and where he launched his political career, becoming mayor in 1994. It also provides crucial funding to the AKP and its circle of supporters.

“Now, the relatively unknown Ekrem İmamoğlu has declared himself its new mayor (despite the AKP’s disagreement) and is being touted as a potential presidential candidate for 2023. He won votes by reaching across the divides, instead of working to widen them,” said the Guardian.

Erdoğan has considerable political skill, seen in how he rode out the Gezi Park protests of 2013 used the failed coup attempt of 2016 to launch mass purges of the country’s institutions, before pushing through constitutional changes that handed him sweeping new powers, according to the Guardian.

“But the costs of his populist campaigning and policies in government are becoming clearer,” said the Guardian, citing Turkey’s recession and high inflation, the international revulsion at his use of video of the New Zealand mosque attacks at campaign rallies, and deteriorating relations with the United States as a result of Ankara’s purchase of a Russian missile defence system.

Amid an economic downturn, lavish mega projects like the new Istanbul airport, which cost an estimated $7.84 billion (44.3 billion liras), look less like achievements and more like part of the problem, the Guardian added.

“The opposition’s control of cities could give it a chance to show it can deliver on promises, as well as whittle away at the president’s powers of patronage,” said the Guardian, pointing to the symbolic impact of the vote.

“The initial results alone constitute a humbling warning to a man who abandoned humility long ago. But with this opportunity comes the great danger that he will simply ignore the results and arrange the outcome to suit his purposes,” said the Guardian. “Up till now he has ruled as an authoritarian populist. He could morph into something worse.”