Turkey's Erdogan looks set to grab back Istanbul

The impasse in Turkish politics is the result of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s puzzling ways of (mis)handling of Istanbul’s election crisis that has enveloped the country.

In what may be seen as a daredevil political act, he exercised enough pressure over Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) that led to the annulment of the mayoral election in Istanbul.

Even legal experts could not find a convincing point why Ekrem Imamoglu, the candidate for the secular-nationalist bloc that had won the Istanbul election by nearly 15,000 votes, was deprived the mayorship.

This move shocked and further angered opposition voters, who prepare to go to what Erdogan self-confidently called as “repeat elections.” They are right in their rage.

Although a larger scale anti-Erdogan mobilisation is under way, the fact is, as pointed out by Hasim Kilic, a former liberal chief judge of Turkey’s top court, that “YSK not only abused its powers but also invalidated the fundamental right of the citizens’ right to vote.”

In other words, Turkey experienced yet another “civilian coup” with Erdogan’s fingerprints all over it.

Years of power grab have eradicated Turkey’s semi-democracy, with separation of powers and rule of law thrown into the garbage can. The one and only tool of democracy left for Turks was the ballot box. Denial of that marks a final nail in the coffin of whatever remained of pluralistic order.

Yet, some optimistic — or opportunistic — pundits in Turkey try to declare to the world that democracy is not dead and the will of the citizenry stands to be respected. They are wrong and they mislead the international opinion.

Erdogan has hijacked the election process, not only by denying a clear-cut result in Istanbul but by appointing trustees in predominantly Kurdish municipalities won by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party.

The ballot box has become the latest victim of his power grab moves, a claptrap path that his rule will control fully everything, as in the case of some Central Asian republics.

The “coup” has impassioned Imamoglu — a charismatic figure whose soft manners are reminiscent of Turgut Ozal, a late president of Turkey — and the large crowds who support him.

“Everything will be just fine” became the slogan going viral over social media and the pro-Imamoglu spin is in full swing that he will win the June 23 revote by an even larger margin.

Will he though? This is the critical question that gets lost in political scuffling. Emotions blur reasoned debate as a result of the anger and the judicial chaos. People in both camps only lend an ear to wishful thinking in their choosing.

Will hopes overcome Turkey’s brutal reality? Given the memory of Erdogan’s climb to the altar of full-scale of authoritarianism, the answer is more likely “no.”

Although he is at his weakest in power, standing in the centre of an unpredictable Islamist-Nationalist alliance, Erdogan remains a mastermind of political engineering, with his skills of survival intact. His push for repeat elections means he will enter the race only to win. He knows that if he loses, his legend will receive a lethal blow that makes recovery impossible.

Equipped with extensive powers as a president, Erdogan has full control of the state and security apparatus. He keeps the judiciary and the media on a leash. His rhetorical ammunition is intact: He has immense powers to persuade his followers that “all calamities over Turkey are the product unleashed by hostile powers of the world.

Erdogan will stage rallies in Istanbul’s nearly 40 sub-districts — breaching the constitution once more — and continue with his divisive, polarising discourse, which will keep the gates open to violence. All that is part of his gamble, which is based on raising the bet each time.

The opposition camp is hopeful of a larger-scale mobilisation, despite that many white-collar residents of Istanbul may be leaving for summer vacations.

Fears are high over intensified election fraud but, for the Erdogan camp, it may not be necessary at all, as pointed out in an article by Turkish researcher Abdullah Aydogan for the Washington Post, since even election irregularities, such as invalid votes, worked in Erdogan’s favour.

Other data show clearly that there are at least 500,000 pro-Erdogan voters who did not go to the polling place March 31. The president gave orders that each and every one of them will be pushed to go and cast their vote this time.

Erdogan’s party has a huge micro-level network in Istanbul and there should be no surprise that, with the addition of a fear-mongering campaign and abuses of power, he will grab back Istanbul.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.