The landslide victory of the Turkish opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu in winning the Istanbul municipality against President Tayyip Erdoğan’s candidate Binali Yıldırım, in the re-run on June 23 means more for the country than a local election.
This election was also an answer to Erdoğan’s increasingly arrogant rhetoric against all his adversaries, as well as against his moves to rule the country single-handedly. The 54 percent vote that the center-left opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu got from more than 10.5 million registered voters in Istanbul (with a turnout of 84.5 per cent) went well beyond the vote potential of his party. In the March 31 local elections Imamoğlu’s win by a margin of 13 thousand votes was cancelled by the Supreme Election Boards (YSK) upon persistent objections and demands by President Erdoğan. In the re-run on June 23, the gap was more than 777 thousand votes. İmamoğlu has not only enjoyed the full support of CHP’s election ally, center-right Good Party (GP) but also of the voters from the Kurdish-problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), in addition to those of the Islamic conservative Felicity Party (FP) and others.
“Turkish people succeeded to stop a one-man rule through the ballot box, despite all the pressure”, said CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu; “I don’t think there is any other example in modern political history.”
İmamoğlu was Kılıçdaroğlu’s choice, despite resistance from CHP’s old guard. With a smiling face and inclusive rhetoric, İmamoğlu was not a typical Turkish social democrat. Initially known as the mayor of the Beylikdüzü district of Istanbul, İmamoğlu is an observant Muslim besides being a staunch follower of Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his basic principle of secularism. İmamoğlu’s win was also a message by Turkish voters that they want to return to Turkish secular-Muslim style, and leave the orthodox Islamic understanding under a heavy Arabic cultural domination that Erdoğan had been trying to impose. He also stood strong against unnerving agitations by Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) especially over Kurdish politics; despite calls on him by Erdoğan and his candidate Binali Yıldırım to denounce the HDP, the third biggest party in the parliament as “terrorist”, İmamoğlu said he was ready to serve HDP voters in Istanbul as mayor, just as he was willing to serve voters of all other parties. And when Erdoğan, used the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan as leverage to dissuade from voting for İmamoğlu it backfired and helped to widen the gap between the two candidates to an impressive 9 per cent.
The election was over soon after the ballot boxes were closed;, even before the first results by the Supreme Election Board (YSK) were announced, an exhausted Yıldırım threw the towel and congratulated İmamoğlu publicly for his win. It took a few hours for Erdoğan to follow suit and acknowledge not only Yıldırım’s but his own defeat, since he threw himself out on the forefront of the elections, often reminding to the voters that this was not only a local election but a question of survival his domestic, foreign, and economic policies.
Besides the non-antagonizing sympathy created by İmamoğlu with its embracing slogan “Everything will be all right”, it was Erdoğan’s 17-year rule which got an “enough is enough” answer from the voters.
Erdoğan’s economic policies currently run by his son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who is the Finance and Treasury Minister, also played a major role in the defeat. The fact that a crushing majority of Turkish media is now owned by investors close to Erdoğan and behind the scenes orchestrated by Serhat Albayrak, brother of the Minister did not help Erdoğan to win.
Erdoğan’s defeat will have consequences on Turkey’s economic, domestic and foreign policies. It is likely for Erdoğan to launch a sweeping operation within his party against those he would hold responsible for his defeat. This could accelerate the groupings and cracks within the party where former President Abdullah Gül and former economy chief Ali Babacan be the pillars of. In the meantime, former prime minister and foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is preparing to launch his own political initiative A cabinet reshuffle under the circumstances would only mean something if it was to remove Albayrak from his chair.
In foreign policy, the Istanbul defeat might weaken Erdoğan’s hand. Erdoğan’s counterparts, from the U.S. President Donald Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin, from leaders of the European Union to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, will meet a new Erdoğan in the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan on June 28-29; one who suffered a serious blow from his own people.
Erdoğan actually fell victim to his own, increasing arrogance and the Turkish people made it known in a democratic way on June 23 that they were fed up with that.