Turkish Election Board is under threats on the eve of crucial Istanbul election decision
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on Turkey’s Supreme Election Board (YSK) members to cancel the results of the March 31 municipal election for Istanbul, where the opposition candidate won, in order to “clear the stain” and “vindicate” on themselves, on the eve of a key meeting for the ruling.
During a speech on May 4 in Istanbul, Erdoğan increased the dose of his criticism of the YSK because of not deciding already for the repeat of the Istanbul municipal election as his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) has been asking for. “So far I kept silent. But no longer hitting the underdog” Erdoğan, implying himself as being the underdog, in addition to his almost daily calls on the Board. “There is no threat in our call” he added; “But why the YSK did not react to CHP threats when they said if the Board cancels the election the Board chairman could not walk in Kızılay [Ankara downtown)”. That was in reference to the words of Engin Altay, a spokesman for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) who earlier said that if the Board rules for the cancellation, that would be a shame and people would spit on the face of the Board Chairman Sadi Güven down in Kızılay.
The CHP spokesman Faik Öztrak’s reply to that was to say that everyone who would share that “crime” meaning the repeat of the Istanbul election, would someday be judged before the Supreme Court. AK Party spokesman Ömer çelik’s immediate answer to that was to relate CHP’s political tradition, indirectly with the 1960 military coup. Finally Erdoğan’s election partner, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli said that the YSK should –sooner the better- rule for the repeat of the election and if the YSK did that he would carry his “headquarters” to Istanbul in support of the AK Party.
Istanbul municipality is at the centre of this escalating duel of words with the use of dangerous key words in statements.
The CHP candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu had won the metropolitan municipality elections in Istanbul on March 31 against the AK Parti candidate (and former prime minister) Binali Yıldırım with a margin of more than 13 thousand votes in the city with some 11 million eligible voters. The win was confirmed by the YSK after numerous recounts upon objections by Erdoğan’s AK Parti on April 17 when the mandate of the nearly 16 million population city was officially handed over to İmamoğlu. The AK Parti objections continued after the mandate based on the claims of irregularities regarding the formation of the ballot box committees and voting fraud.
This is the first time in Turkish political history that a government which is in charge of the election safety is complaining of election fraud and irregularities. It is not only Istanbul that the AK Parti and MHP have lost: five largest cities of Turkey, namely Ankara, İzmir, Adana and Antalya are in the hands of the centre-left CHP with the backing of their centre-right election partner the Good Party (GP), or IYI in Turkish initials. Those cities represent more than 80 percent of the country’s GDP. Istanbul itself produces a sixth of Turkish economy. Erdoğan doesn’t want the opposition parties control the budget which would not only mean which projects should be funded but also which financial and facilitation support to pro-government owned companies, NGO’s and media would be cut.
There is another reason, which is not much bespoken. The thumb rule of Turkish politics so far is that the party which wins Istanbul also wins the next parliamentary elections. Erdoğan’s ascend in politics had started when he was elected as mayor of Istanbul 25 years ago in 1994. Erdoğan’s disclamation of Istanbul elections is that he worries that İmamoğlu could follow the same path.
One result of Erdoğan’s urging of the YSK right before the meeting with key importance is that CHP’s partner GP endorsed its full support for CHP’s İmamoğlu if the election is repeated, asking the YSK to confirm the March 31 results. One of GP leader Meral Akşener’s deputies, Hasan Seymen said on Twitter that, the YSK should not bow before the government “to win the elections on the table which they lost in the ballot box” and actually to repeat the elections would be a stain on Turkish political life.
The opposition parties consider the possibility of boycotting the Istanbul election if the YSK rules for a repetition of it. Especially within the CHP, there is a reported pressure from within on the party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu who did not comment so far, saying he wanted to believe that the YSK would confirm the existing results and acknowledge the win of his party.
Amid a series of problems ranging from high inflation and unemployment to tension with the NATO ally U.S. over Russian made S-400 missiles and the delivery of F-35 jet fighters, number one issue for Erdoğan for the time being is not letting Istanbul municipality to the opposition, indicating its priority for his political future. By the way, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is expected to visit Turkey to talk to President Erdoğan and other officials on the S-400 issue, which can only find places in the foreign news pages of Turkish media nowadays, as another indication of the seriousness of the situation.