Istanbul re-run controversy points to possible split in ruling alliance - NYT

Controversy over the loss of Istanbul in the March 31 local election has led to major rifts in Turkey’s ruling alliance, New York Times Turkey bureau chief Carlotta Gall said in an article on Friday.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP)’s Ekrem İmamoğlu received his mayor’s certificate last week, 17 days after initial counts placed him as the winner of a tight race in Istanbul.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has launched an extraordinary appeal, demanding the Supreme Election Council cancels and reruns the election due to alleged fraud.

Tensions over the election result have been high, and came to a head with an attack on CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu last Sunday as he left a funeral in Ankara, Gall said.

But supporters of the AKP are themselves divided on the best way to progress, with some supporters warning that cancelling the elections could pose serious problems and “politicians and analysts on all sides predict that a do-over of the election would risk social chaos”.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s precarious economic situation has not been helped by the uncertainty around the election, Gall said.

The situation has led to speculation that sidelined members of the AKP could be preparing to found a long-awaited new party, and a statement from former AKP prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu published on Facebook has fed the speculation.

Davutoğlu criticised the recent direction of the ruling party, including its shift towards nationalism and alliance with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli has been firmly pushing for a re-run of the election in Istanbul, and has rejected calls by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to reconcile with the opposition in a broad-based “Turkey alliance”.

The signs of strain have sparked speculation that two parties are preparing to go their separate ways. On Friday, Ahval contributor Zulfikar Doğan quoted a news site “close to the MHP” as saying the party would announce the end of the alliance on Monday.

Analysts close to the government have said the attack on Kılıçdaroğlu reflected the ongoing “battle within the ruling alliance, between those who want to maintain tension in order to force a rerun of the election, and senior heads in the party who wanted to calm things down”, Gall said.