What will Erdoğan do, if he loses İstanbul again?
The fact that there is no scheduled plan for President Tayyip Erdoğan to have a mass rally in İstanbul before the re-run for metropolitan municipality on June 23, is the strongest indication so far that he is ready to acknowledge the results even if his Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate Binali Yıldırım loses again.
According to his press schedule, Erdoğan will be in Ankara this week and to travel to Tajikistan on 14-15 to attend a confidence building measures conference in Asia. An AKP official said he “cannot give information on the matter”, but a source close to Erdoğan, who asked not to be named told YetkinReport that they had no planning for a mass election rally like the one on March 31 elections, if there would be no last minute change. On his return from Tajikistan, Erdoğan is expected to meet Yıldırım, prior to Yıldırım’s live TV discussion on June 16 evening with the opposition Republican people’s Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu who had won the March 31 municipal elections before it was cancelled by the Supreme Election Board (YSK) upon objections by Erdoğan.
Before the March 31 elections Erdoğan, together with his election partner Devlet Bahçeli of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) had appeared before the masses but that did not stop İmamoğlu’s win. AKP and MHP had objected the results, claiming that ballot box irregularities caused the win of İmamoğlu with a difference of 13 thousand votes in a city of some 10.6 million registered voters (with a turnout of 83.5 pct) and the YSK decided for a re-run a still disputed ruling.
Despite his vow to move his headquarters to Istanbul for the election, Bahçeli is not trying his best for a high profile ahead of June 23. And actually that gives a –never-to-be-admitted relief for AKP, because Yıldırım needs to attract votes from conservative Kurds and religious sects and communities to close the gap and they perceive Bahçeli as a political allergen.
When the government allowed a lawyer access to imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, after eight years, Bahçeli paid his lip service in the form of defendant rights. But he criticised Yıldırım when the former prime minister when he used the word “Kurdistan” in a speech he delivered in the pre-dominantly Kurdish populated city of Diyarbakır. Not only Bahçeli, but the center-right Good Party (GP) leader Meral Akşener also slammed Yıldırım as being a hypocrite because of his Diyarbakır performance. Being the election partner of the center-left CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, she said that Yıldırım was trying in vain to attract the Kurdish votes forgetting that he was calling them as “terrorists” before March 31. A heavy weight spokeswoman for the Kurdish problem focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) says they would stand against AKP in the re-run, but HDP’s influence on Islamist Kurds is very limited.
It is possible that Bahçeli might want to see the AKP performance in Istanbul without his active support, also to set an example for future debates on being a hidden coalition partner.
Without forgetting that Yıldırım has been under criticism from within the AKP that the election loss on March 31 was partly Yıldırım’s unenthusiastic election campaign, the information that Erdoğan has not been planning a mass rally in Istanbul, might be an indication that he is ready to acknowledge a possible loss by Yıldırım, despite political pressure put on the judges of the district election boards in Istanbul in an effort not to lose Turkey’s biggest city to opposition once again.
Some still believe that Erdoğan would not have pressed for a re-run if he didn’t believe that he could take Istanbul back. But if İmamoğlu wins again, the first outcome of that result could be a major surge operation within the AKP to punish those responsible for the defeat, which means a lot for Erdoğan: that is the city where his political rise has started 25 years ago when elected as mayor.