How I overestimated Turkey's Erdogan and ruling AKP - analyst

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling party still controls most of the country’s cities and towns, but Sunday’s local elections, in which Erdoğan’s party lost Ankara and likely Istanbul, marked a surprising defeat, according to an analysis for the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. think tank.

“This was an outcome I did not expect,” wrote Steven Cook, senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at CFR, referring to an article he wrote just before the vote. “No excuses - I blew it.”

Cook pinned his analysis on four factors, three of which turned out to be incorrect. The first was Erdoğan’s political savvy, which he has long admired.

“Somewhere along the way that admiration for Erdoğan’s political chops blinded me to the fact that he does not have a perfect theory of politics,” wrote Cook. “The Turkish leader and I thought that national identity, religious identity, and fear about the division of the country at the hands of the Kurds would outweigh a recession, 20 percent inflation, and 25 percent unemployment in the minds of voters.  Both Erdoğan and I miscalculated.”

His second error was underestimating Turkey’s opposition, arguing that it was unable to proffer a coherent and appealing message to counter the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). He now sees that the Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidates for Ankara and Istanbul, Mansur Yavaş and Ekrem İmamoğlu, are formidable politicians.

“It remains to be seen whether the CHP and other parts of the opposition can capitalize further on the weakness of the AKP, but hats off to Yavaş and, especially, İmamoğlu,” wrote Cook. “He likely won in Istanbul.  I did not think it would happen. I should have paid closer attention to his campaign.”

Cook said his third error was thinking that the AKP would do a better job rigging the vote, as it had in the 2017 constitutional referendum.

“I dispensed with the notion that the party could lose Istanbul by a large enough margin that its rigging would stretch credulity. Yet, here we are,” wrote Cook. “I had come to believe that AKP had wired the country from end-to-end with enough supporters through patronage, a compliant press, and the power to intimidate citizens and opposition politicians alike that the party could lose, but win anyway.”