Erdoğan loses invincibility in win for Turkish democracy - Guardian

Turkey’s local elections on Sunday resulted in a major setback for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, removing his aura of invincibility, according to an analysis in British newspaper The Guardian.

“The ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) and nationalist MHP coalition lost Turkey’s major cities to an opposition ushering in an era of change at the local level. The political transitions in Istanbul and Ankara are critical given that these cities have been held by Erdoğan’s political “family” tradition since 1994,” Sinan Ülgen, executive chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, wrote for the Guardian.

“The question is how a hitherto invincible leader and political movement has lost its footing, having been able to consolidate power for such a long time,” he said, referring to Erdoğan’s 16 years in power.

The first explanation is Turkey’s economy, which proved to be the best friend of Turkey’s democracy, according to Ülgen. Turkey has entered a recession, the first in the country for a decade, with people suffering from the impact of a collapsed currency and higher inflation.

The second explanation is the improved performance of Turkey’s opposition, according to Ülgen, which outmanoeuvred Erdoğan.

“Both in Ankara and Istanbul, the opposition fielded candidates that were willing and able to reach out beyond their core and natural constituencies. In Ankara, Mansur Yavaş got a majority of the nationalist vote. In Istanbul, Ekrem İmamoğlu was able to draw a share of the conservative vote,” wrote Ülgen, complimenting İmamoğlu’s astute management of the election night crisis after his AKP opponent declared a premature victory.  

Ülgen warned against over-estimating the impact of this vote. Erdoğan and AKP remain the dominant force in Turkish politics, said Ülgen, pointing out that the AKP-led alliance received nearly 52 percent of the overall vote.  

But the opposition is now emboldened and in control of cities that represent nearly two-thirds of Turkey’s GDP.

“Its immediate challenge is to match and outperform the service delivery standards achieved by AKP local governments over the past decades,” said Ülgen. “In the longer term, it will need to cement its alliance at the national level, something that will be facilitated by a more inclusive model of local governance.”

Erdoğan’s challenge will be to overcome a new perception of weakness. “His political fortunes will depend on how soon he can return Turkey to a path of sustainable growth,” said Ülgen, also calling for reforms to boost the rule of law.

Still, this vote demonstrated that Erdoğan and the AKP remain vulnerable.

“In many ways, the winner on Sunday was the image of Turkey’s polity, both at home and abroad,” wrote Ülgen. “Despite being saddled with big problems, Turkish democracy demonstrated its resilience and vibrancy, and hinted at a future beyond populist and divisive politics.”