KONDA, one of Turkey’s leading polling companies, has recently claimed that Ekrem İmamoğlu, the opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) candidate for the Istanbul might get far ahead of ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Binali Yıldırım by up to 8 points on the municipal election re-run on June 23. After the results were released and in a matter of hours, President Tayyip Erdoğan said a court ruling can well stop İmamoğlu.
Erdoğan was referring to the investigation opened following his warning against İmamoğlu upon claims that he insulted the governor of the Black Sea town Ordu, Seddar Yavuz, over the use of the VIP section of the airport earlier in the month. A few hours before mentioning that the opposition candidate, who is shown ahead of his opponent in many polls, could be stopped via a hurried court ruling, Erdoğan claimed that if Istanbulites did not choose Yıldırım on June 23, it would mean that they opted for Sisi. His implication was that electing İmamoğlu would be the equivalent of electing Abdul Fattah al-Sisi who toppled Egypt’s elected President Mohammad Morsi, who died in the court room earlier in the week. Earlier in the same day, Erdoğan rather dramatically declared that he would go as far as to try and bring Kurdish protest singer Ahmet Kaya’s grave from Paris; Kaya had died there in self-exile because of court cases against him. The sudden Ahmet Kaya move was probably aimed at Kurdish votes. This move was a successor to Erdoğan letting outlawed PKK’s imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan have lawyer access after eight years; that move had backfired shortly after when the Kurdish- problem- focused People’s Democratic Party (HDP) said their tendency was to back İmamoğlu as well. The HDP spokespersons recalled Erdoğan’s and Yıldırım’s words, whereby they labelled their voters as “terrorists” before the March 31 election, which was cancelled by the Supreme Election Board (YSK) upon AKP objections and applications.
One former AKP deputy of Kurdish origin wrote to the social media group he belonged to that Erdoğan’s words sounded like an “eclipse of reason”.
Actually, up until a few days ago, Erdoğan was trying to keep a low profile, pushing Yıldırım to the forefront and even stressing that this was nothing but a municipal election. His team was confirming that he planned no big rallies and was going to accept the June 23 results, whatever they may be. The live TV debate on June 16 between Imamoğlu and Yıldırım stirred up a certain change, as the AKP was not happy with its outcome., Erdoğan’s attitude has changed since. During an address to his supporters on the night of June 17, he said that it was impossible for Imamoğlu to have the mayoral seat after his insult to the governor. These words meant that Erdoğan was admitting that he was considering İmamoğlu’s win as a possibility; that’s why he was now implying that a convenient court ruling could stop that. With this move, Erdoğan also brought himself back to square one, back into the forefront as the rival of İmamoğlu in a way, pulling Yıldırım down from the showcase. Neither İmamoğlu, nor the CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu answered Erdoğan; CHP Istanbul chairwoman Canan Kaftancıoğlu said “Aye aye!” and reminded the President had no such constitutional right.
In the meantime, Devlet Bahçeli, Erdoğan’s election partner and the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), travelled from Ankara to Istanbul with a fleet of black Mercedes and Audi limousines and shared a video on social media as he was crossing a Bosporus bridge with the Ottoman war music “Mehter” playing at the background. Some people think he, at last, was keeping his promise to Erdoğan and carrying his headquarters to Istanbul is assistance at least for the last week. Actually, Erdoğan was not happy with that because his alliance with Bahçeli was one of the main reasons why AKP’s Kurdish supporters refrained to cast their votes for Yıldırım on the cancelled March 31 election. Bahçeli returned to Ankara with his impressive convoy the next day.
Another TV show on June 19, this time on the government- controlled public broadcaster TRT as the first ever appearance of the opposition candidate, further polished the star of İmamoğlu.
Erdoğan’s June 19 statements above came after that TV show.
It seems that Erdoğan has decided to put whatever he has on the table to make sure that he will not lose Istanbul again. His political rise to the presidency had started when he was elected as mayor of Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city 25 years ago. If Imamoglu wins, that would not only mean that the five largest cities of Turkey, including Istanbul with its population nearing 16 million people, would be run by the center-left opposition CHP mayors with the support of the center-right Good Party (GP). It would also mean that the voters no longer approve of what Erdoğan has been saying during the campaign; it was Erdoğan after all who turned a municipal election into a general election, or even a destiny election for Turkey. If Imamoğlu wins, it will be perceived by Turkish voters as the end of Erdogan’s political ascent and that perhaps the signs of a decline are starting to show.
If İmamoğlu wins, Kılıçdaroğlu says that, it will be a first in political history that a one-man rule will be beaten up through democratic vote. But there are still a few days to go for the re-run and Erdoğan’s hat is always full of rabbits.