How Erdoğan was saved from a major economic blow (for now)

It was a relief for Turkish business people when the U.S. President Donald Trump said in a joint press conference with Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, in Osaka on June 29, that Turkey had to opt for Russian S-400 missiles because his Democrat predecessor Barack Obama refused to sell Patriots. It was the first time an American official, and no less than the President was acknowledging an American responsibility in the S-400 crisis between the two NATO allies.
When asked about the Congressional demand to deny the delivery of the jointly produced F-35 jets and impose economic sanctions if Turkey would not cancel the arms deal with Russia, Trump said it was a “complicated” matter. Erdoğan, later on, interpreted and expressed this as “sanctions are off the table” answering those trying to find their feet in a declining Turkish economy with what they would like to hear. The CAATSA sanctions by the U.S. have been considered as the major “exterior geostrategic factor” and “policy mistake” factor by political and economic observers assessing the Turkish economy. But as it could be understood from the White House statement, later on, Trump was referring to the complications with Congress in the S-400 crisis. It seems whether the missiles will actually be used will be a matter of diplomacy; after all, Trump said “different solutions” were being worked on. The Americans say they would interfere with the capabilities of the F-35 and open holes in theirs and NATO’s air defense should the two missiles be used together after Russia delivers the first party as President Vladimir Putin promised; Erdoğan said there would be no paddling back.
Actually, Erdoğan was saved from a major economic blow to Tukey’s already shrinking economy (with – 3.0 and – 2.8 per cent in the last two quarters) by Trump who acknowledged a U.S. fault in the crisis (thus giving Erdoğan some time to maneuver). Trump also killed two birds in one stone by putting the blame on the democratic rule of Obama. Trump, in a way, made it clear that the U.S. wanted Turkey to stay in the Western defense system and not side with Russia. The ball is in Erdoğan’s court now but it will not be easy to mend the fences with Congress, which unfairly identifies Erdoğan with Turkey.
But this was the second time in a week that Turkey, under Erdoğan, was saved from a major blow to its economy. The first one was when Erdoğan -willingly or unwillingly acknowledged defeat in the Istanbul municipality re-run on June 23. The center-left opposition Republican People’s Party’s candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu had a landslide victory over Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate after his first win on March 31 was cancelled through objections and demands by Erdoğan to the Supreme Election Board (YSK).
Many embassies in Ankara, as well as financial institutions holding the pulse of the economy in Istanbul, were afraid that if Erdoğan foresaw a second defeat and attempted to cancel the election that could cause a “confidence crisis” in Turkey. It would mean people losing confidence to the entire Turkish system, from elections to courts, from the government to the banks. Perhaps that was the reason why İmamoğlu’s optimistic election slogan as “Everything will be all right” was so embraced by the voters. This time Erdoğan lost badly; it’s not only Istanbul but five largest cities of Turkey that are now run by opposition CHP mayors. In addition, a wave of optimism has started to rise within society, which halted Erdoğan’s so far uninterrupted rise in the last 25 years and the market decline; the psychological factor worked.
Perhaps this was a favor by the U.S. President, not to Erdoğan but to a NATO partner of the U.S., Turkey, whose voters have proven that Turkey is not limited to Erdoğan and Erdoğan is not identical with Turkey, if there is a sophisticated mindset in the White House, going beyond arms trade.
Yes, the optimism is there, on the S-400 issue as well but not everything is over and not only in politics. Turkey also needs a viable program for structural economic reforms which heralds though days ahead for Erdoğan.


Lessons from the landslide victory of Turkish opposition over Erdoğan

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.


President Erdoğan loses Istanbul as opposition candidate wins landslide victory

Ekrem İmamoğlu, the candidate for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in the re-run of Istanbul local elections won a landslide victory on June 23 over President Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate, former prime minister Binali Yildirim.

Yildirim accepted the defeat and congratulated İmamoğlu. The early results showed a difference about 800 thousand votes. The March 31 local election for Istanbul when İmamoğlu won with 13 thousand votes, was cancelled by the Supreme Election Board (YSK) upon Erdoğan ‘s persistent objections.

İmamoğlu said in his victory speech that Istanbul re-run elections was actually a win for Turkish democracy.

Details to follow.


Only a day to go, Erdoğan sets aside his terrorism rhetoric in fear of losing the Istanbul re-run

Some may call it hypocrisy, but in Turkey, the politics game is played Machiavellian style: “the end justifies the means”.
In fear of losing the June 23 re-run of the Istanbul municipal elections, President Tayyip Erdoğan has let the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Öcalan call on the Kurdish- problem- focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) not to vote for the opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu. This is because İmamoğlu is seen ahead in the polls.

President Erdoğan is likely to do whatever possible to stop the opposition block candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu, who is seen ahead of the government block candidate Binali Yıldırım for Istanbul re-run on June 23.

The story started to unfold when on the morning of June 20, the Ankara Bureau Chief Okan Müderrisoğlu of the pro-government Sabah newspaper asked whether the HDP tendency to support the Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate İmamoğlu against Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate Binali Yıldırım really matched with the policies of Öcalan. That was strange because mentioning the PKK leader, without adjectives such as “baby killer” or “terrorist in chief” was almost a taboo for the pro-government media. Erdoğan and his election partner Devlet Bahçeli of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) had based their March 31 election campaign on the concept of “survival”, implying the struggle against the PKK’s target of carving a Kurdistan out of Turkey. Erdoğan, Bahçeli and Yıldırım had accused İmamoğlu, the center-left CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and the center-right Good Party (GP) leader Meral Akşener of supporting terrorism solely on the grounds that they did not label the HDP and its supporters as terrorists.
But that tactic did not work; March 31 election,s which was won by İmamoğlu with a margin of more than 13 thousand in a city of more than 10.5 million registered voters (with a turnout of 83.5 per cent), was cancelled by the Surpreme Election Board (YSK) after persistent objections and demands by Erdoğan and Bahçeli. That’s why the Istanbulites are going to cast their votes once again on June 23. Analyzing that the alliance with MHP had alienated Kurdish votes on March 31, Erdoğan revised his strategy for June 23. Instead of himself, he chose Yıldırım to be on the campaigns’ forefront, to remind his powerbase what they might lose, politically, socially and economically if Turkey’s biggest city, producing almost a third of the country’s wealth slips out of the AKP hands. Yıldırım went as far to visit the dominantly Kurdish populated Diyarbakır and pronounced the taboo word of “Kurdistan” in an attempt to influence Diyarbakır’s Kurdish population to tell their relatives in Istanbul to vote for him.

The turning point where the winds have changed

Actually, Erdoğan has started to set his new game up in April, right after the results of March 31. In the first days of May, Öcalan was granted access to his lawyers after eight years; this was made public on May 6 when the YSK ruled for the re-run of Istanbul election.
The irony is that one of the main reasons why Erdogan’s government is at odds with the U.S. is the American military collaboration with the PKK’s Syria wing in the fight against ISIS since 2014. Commenting on the S-400 rift, Erdoğan mentioned a number of times that the continuing American collaboration with Turkey’s arch enemy, the PKK, was one of the main reasons for the discords. It was actually the American intelligence CIA that helped the Turkish intelligence MIT in Ocalan’s arrest back in 1999.
As public opinion polls started to show that İmamoğlu ahead of Yıldırım with a widening gap, Erdoğan had a meeting with Bahçeli (who criticized Yıldırım because of his Diyarbakır speech) in Ankara on June 13. That was right before a cabinet meeting. On the agenda of that meeting were the rift with the U.S. over the purchase of Russian S-400 missiles and the tension in the eastern Mediterranean over the oil and gas exploration rights off of Cyprus coast, as well as the ongoing anti-PKK operation (“Operation Claw”) in Iraqi territories. The dynamics of the AKP-MHP election campaign started to change after that Erdoğan- Bahçeli meeting.
On June 15, Bahçeli travelled to Istanbul with a convoy of black Mercedes and Audi limousines and made it public via a video with Ottoman war music “Mehter” playing in the background. After meeting a number of right- wing opinion holders in Istanbul, he returned to Ankara the next day , without showcasing himself up much in Istanbul. This discreet attitude was, presumably adopted so as not to agitate Kurdish voters; an estimated 1.5 million people, some of whom are under the influence of the HDP and some others being linked to religious sects and tribal relations. On June 16, Yıldırım’s performance in a live TV debate with İmamoğlu did not make Erdoğan happy. They reportedly had a telephone conversation afterwards. And on June 17, Erdoğan pulled Yıldırım down from the showcase and put himself forward again as though he were the candidate against İmamoğlu. That was the move which turned the Istanbul municipality re-run into a general election. Knowing that his personal clout was more than his party’s, Erdoğan was in a way asking voters to keep his own power in place by voting for Yıldırım. On the same day, June 17, he said that theİmamoğlu’s rise could well be stopped by a court case against him over an insulting word he allegedly directed to a provincial governor. It was perceived as the first acknowledgement by Erdoğan that İmamoğlu might actually win and therefore had to be stopped by any means justifying the end.
On June 18, lawyers of Öcalan visited him again upon government permission; they were given a letter asking the HDP not to take sides between Yıldırım and İmamoğlu. Given the HDP stance against the Erdoğan-Bahçeli alliance, Öcalan’s demand for “impartiality” obviously meant a demand not to vote for İmamoğlu, appealing instead to the HDP voters to give indirect support to the Erdoğan-Bahçeli candidate Yıldırım. But that was only made public two days after on June 20 and not by the lawyers of Öcalan. Right after the Sabah writer’s query about Öcalan’s opinion against the HDP, a previously unknown professor of sociology from the Eastern town of Tunceli, namely Ali Kemal Özcan was quoted by the government-run Anadolu Agency as saying that he visited Öcalan as suggested by “state authorities” and acquired a copy of Öcalan’s letter to his lawyers which was later on protested by Öcalan’s lawyers as a breach of immunity.

Kurdish votes might play a decisive role

Erdoğan said on a TV program on the same night that there was a leadership fight within the PKK between Öcalan and HDP’s imprisoned former co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş who openly gave his support for İmamoğlu by also sharing İmamoğlu’s popular slogan of “Everything will be all right”. Erdoğan was clearly against Demirtaş’s stance. Erdoğan also announced that Nechirvan Barzani the newly elected head of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq will come to Turkey in his support.
An HDP statement said on June 21 that they agreed with Öcalan’s views in principle which they interpreted as not limited with the election but that they would not change their stance for the June 23 election. To almost everybody’s surprise, Bahçeli released a statement saying that Öcalan’s call on HDP was against HDP’s “abuse” of his political line –implying by unofficially backing the CHP-GP candidate İmamoğlu. It was incredible: Bahçeli, the MHP leader who has been asking Erdoğan for some time to bring back the death penalty to hang up the “Imralı monster”, Imralı being the island-prison where Öcalan is held, was defending Öcalan’s common sense against the HDP, the third party in the Turkish Parliament, having a larger group than his MHP.
It seems the Kurdish votes, whether they are from HDP grassroots or from AKP, are likely to play a decisive role in the June 23 elections.
If İmamoğlu wins as polls estimated until Erdoğan’s Öcalan move that will be a multi-layer defeat. A defeat first and foremost: for Erdoğan who turned a local election into an election of destiny for the country. If İmamoğlu wins, it can easily be said that Erdoğan’s steady rise in politics will come to a halt. Tremors should be expected within the party and Erdoğan, seeing himself as being immune to making mistakes of any kind is likely to punish all those he would hold responsible for the defeat, which could accelerate the cracks and groupings within the AKP. Secondly, there could be tremors in Bahçeli’s MHP as well when his supporters eventually start questioning the Öcalan statements. Thirdly, Öcalan’s influence on the PKK as well as the HDP could be seriously damaged whilst the credibility of Demirtaş could rise as a politician in parliamentary politics.
CHP might have tremors as well if İmamoğlu wins; the old school is likely to lose ground as Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidates will be running the municipalities of 5 largest cities of Turkey, representing three- fourths of the country’s economy.
The extent of what Erdoğan is capable of doing is still unknown, but it seems he can use all possible methods to stop İmamoğlu. But if he succeeds and gets Istanbul back, he is likely to consider it as an approval for his domestic, foreign and economic policies, and carry on the way he is now.


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.


Erdogan’s AKP is after a Plan-B as their propaganda tactics to stop Imamoğlu’s rise backfire

The latest propaganda tactic by President Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) against the successes of the opposition Republican People Party’s (CHP) rising star Ekrem Imamoğlu was to claim that he was of Greek origin. Some two weeks ago, the AKP officials started to quote a previously unknown web site in Greece. The article in the website states that a “Pontic is taking back Constantinople”, referring to Imamoğlu’s birthplace, Turkey’s eastern Black Sea coastal city of Trabzon. The aim of the ruling AKP in quoting this controversial article was to agitate voters of Black Sea origin in Istanbul, known for their strong nationalist tendencies, hoping to persuade them not to re-vote for Imamoğlu on the Istanbul election re-run on June 23. ; Imamoğlu’s March 31 win was annulled by the Supreme Election Board (YSK) following persistent objections and demands by President Erdoğan himself and his election partner Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). There were two drawbacks of the propaganda campaign, resembling the CIA or KGB tactics used in the 1970s. At first, many of the key figures in the election campaign were from Trabzon as well. From Treasury and Finance Minister (and Erdoğan’s son-in-law) Berat Albayrak to Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu; from Ali İhsan Yavuz, Erdoğan’s Deputy in charge of the election campaigns, to failed Istanbul Provincial Chairman Bayram Şenocak, many people shared the same origin. Secondly, Erdoğan himself was from the Güneysu district of Rize in the Black Sea region. Back in 2009, during a campaign, Erdoğan had said that the “other” (actually former) name of his district was Potomya, meaning “Little Creek” in Greek. Unfortunately, Erdoğan now joined the campaign, indirectly pointing his finger to “those” trying to “turn Istanbul back to Constantinople.”

The aim of the black propaganda

The aim was to make the Black Sea people react negatively to Imamoğlu but the result was the opposite. Imamoğlu was greeted like a hero in his home town Trabzon on the first day of Muslims’ Eid al-Fitr holiday and the next day on June 5 he performed one of the most spectacular political shows in recent years. He spoke at three public demonstrations in three neighbouring Black Sea towns, Trabzon, Giresun and Ordu with record-breaking participation on each of them; a participation rate the center-left CHP could have never imagined before.

Opposition CHP candidate Imamoğlu was greeted in his hometown Trabzon with crowds.

There is an interesting reason why the AKP decided to defame Imamoğlu in the eyes of voters of Black Sea origin in Istanbul. It lays out the fact that the AKP decided to put aside its national security- oriented “matter of existence” rhetoric used for the March 31 election campaign, aware that it alienated Kurdish voters. And the plan to let imprisoned PKK (outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party) leader Abdullah Öcalan meet his lawyers and talk to them after eight years, was partly a move to attract Kurdish voters back to the AKP. The move was useful in halting the hunger strikes of more than three thousand prisoners who wanted lawyer access granted to Öcalan. But apparently, it did not cheer up Kurdish voters; (former) co-chairman of the Kurdish problem- focused People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş, is still in jail – he has been for almost two years. But the move raised eyebrows of nationalist Central Anatolia and Black Sea origin voters, despite Bahçeli’s statements backing Erdoğan.
The campaign before that was to not mention Imamoğlu by name, but call him “the CHP candidate”. The aim there was to undermine Imamoğlu’s non-CHP supporters, particularly Meral Akşener and her center-right Good Party (GP), and to instead show Imamoğlu as nothing more than a CHP candidate. That campaign did end rather quickly when an AKP deputy, Mehmet Metiner, during a live interview on a pro-government channel, started his sentence as “Ekrem Imamoğ…” and continued as “Sorry, the CHP candidate…” It also backfired.
İmamoğlu’s campaigners believe, the recent polls showing him 2 to 4 points ahead of Yıldırım were mostly fabricated by companies close to the AKP. They claim that the aim is to create the wrong perception among opposition supporters that they have “already won the election, so there is no need to go to the ballot box: they can simply carry on with their summer holidays”.

Not a slam dunk for Imamoglu

But Imamoğlu’s rise doesn’t mean that his second win in Istanbul re-run against the AKP’s candidate, former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım is a slam dunk.
First of all his March 31 win was with 13 thousand votes in a city with nearly 11 million (10.6) registered voters with a turnout of 83.5 per cent. The assumption of the polling companies is that most of the voters who did not go to the ballot box were discontent AKP voters; some of them because of the declining state of the economy. Therefore, the AKP campaign gives priority to convince them to go to the ballot box for Yıldırım.
Secondly, Yıldırım is an experienced politician with respect to relatively younger and promising Imamoğlu. Trained as an engineer and known as the type that “takes care of business”, he has served as Erdoğan’s Transportation and Communications Minister for years, before taking on the roles of Prime Minister and Parliamentary Speaker He is knocking on every door for votes: even those he is not proud to knock on. For example, his visit to a supposedly influential Naqshbandi sect sheikh was made public by the social media accounts of the sect, not by Yıldırım’s team who would have preferred to keep it unnoticed. He tries to mend the bridges with the former Mayor of Istanbul , Kadir Topbaş, who was forced to resign after his son-in-law’s relations with the U.S. resident Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen, who is accused of masterminding the 2016 military coup attempt against Erdoğan, were disclosed.
Thirdly, stakes are really high in Istanbul with a population and budget of more than a number of countries in Europe. During the 18 day period when Imamoglu has the mandate, he claimed that a lot of funds were spent for the foundations and organizations close to Erdoğan and AKP, instead of providing cheaper and better municipality services for Istanbulites. But not only that. Erdoğan started his ascent in politics 25 years ago by winning the municipal elections in Istanbul; he wants to stop Imamoğlu from following the same path.
Losing Istanbul could make Erdoğan’s job more difficult at a time when economic problems force his government to take radical measures with possible negative effects of U.S. sanctions due to Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 missiles.

A sham fight to win the re-run?

Recent developments show that the AKP might not leave the win of the June 23 re-run to only ballot box performance.
One of the main reasons of the Election Board’s cancelling the March 31 election for Istanbul, was the improperly formed provincial and district election boards, all headed by a judge. On the same day of May 6, the YSK had asked the prosecutors to open probes against some of them and probes were carried out, which they did. But in a surprise decision on June 3, the YSK withdrew its complaints, said nothing wrong with them was found and the same people who were objected by the AKP could supervise the re-run on June 23.
It was natural that both Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the CHP and Akşener of the GP asked then why on earth the Istanbul election was cancelled in the first place. Kılıçdaroğlu stated that from now on, Imamoğlu’s rival was “not Yıldırım but the YSK”.
But Erdoğan’s and Yıldırım’s reaction to the YSK was unexpected. Yıldırım said the YSK had caused question marks on the June 23 elections and Erdoğan said they filed an official objection against the YSK decision. Erdoğan who was saying that the YSK had all the authority over the election affairs until a few days ago, now says that it was up to the Judges and Prosecutors Board (HSK) –chaired by his Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül to decide on that.
“Imagine you are a young judge who just saved yourself from a probe that could affect your carrier with the possibility of facing another one, if your decisions about the ballot box results will not be liked by the political power” said a political analyst who was in Erdoğan’s close circle until a few years ago; “This is nothing but putting political and psychological pressure on the local elections boards through their chairs and members, who are mostly public servants.”
“The AKP objections to the YSK looks like a sham fight to create the perception that YSK decisions are independent of Erdoğan’s will” claimed a source Imamoğlu’s campaign office, who also wishes to remain anonymous; “This could well be to discredit the June 23 elections if they lose again.”


Trump’s S-400 call: saving Turkey from sanctions or a new credit to Erdoğan before a crucial election?

U.S. President Donald Trump has reportedly agreed with Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan over setting up a study group to examine Russian S-400 missiles’ interferences with the F-35 jets. This news has sparked a certain optimism in Ankara among government circles about a possible call by Trump to save Turkey from possible sanctions. Yet, a June 4 statement by Erdoğan saying that there would be no turning back from the deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin indicates that there isn’t much advance on the ground.
The Bloomberg news after the two leader’s’ telephone conversation on May 29 was seen as an indicator of the strong bond between Trump and Erdoğan which could circumvent a bi-partisan Congress call to stop the delivery of F-35s, which Turkey is a co-producer of, should Turkey not cancel the S-400 deal with Russia. U.S. officials claim the Russian system with its artificial intelligence capacity could “learn” the stealth secrets of the F-35s, and in this way, put the U.S. and NATO defenses in jeopardy. Turkish officials on the other hand claim that the two systems are already in use through Norwegian F-35s in the Baltic and the Israeli ones in Syria, therefore, a joint study group could decide on the risks to be avoided in order not to harm the NATO defense.
That was the logic behind Turkey’s proposal to set up a study group in order to find out the details about using these two superior weapon systems together. It was first suggested by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo two months ago and then repeated by Erdoğan to Trump as well as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Turkish national NASA employee Serkan Gölge’s release from jail, where he was kept for nearly three years because of alleged links with the Pennsylvania resident Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen, who is accused of masterminding the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey was one of the issues leading up to the May 29 telephone conversation between Trump and Erdoğan. During this call, the S-400 study group was also discussed. Another factor was a May 27 TV interview with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, who said that the delivery of the S-400s could be “delayed” but that a U.S. decision to stop the delivery of the F-35s might cause Turkey to “set up its own world”. The latter, of course, was an implication concerning its alliance with NATO and the U.S. Earlier, Akar had said that Turkey was taking precautions against the possibility of CAATSA sanctions.
Trump has recently approved arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) despite Congress objection based on the violation of human rights. He did this due to his good relations between the two leaderships, and Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government circles saw that as a possibility for Turkey to avoid Trump’s F-35 sanctions, depending on the study group outcome, even in the event that Turkey proceeds with Moscow on the S-400 deal. However, Trump’s waiver to exempt Saudis and UAE from arms sales is based on a possible “emergency” threat from Iran, since the two, together with Israel, are archenemies of Iran. The CAATSA sanctions involving F-35s have nothing to do with Iran, and according to experts in Washington DC, the two issues involve “entirely different pieces of legislation”.
Yet again the AKP circles hope that the establishment of such a working group and Trump’s firm stance against Congress sanctions could save the Turkish economy from its downward trajectory. On the day the Bloomberg’s news story came out about the study group, a slight drop in the value occurred in the value of the U.S dollar against Turkish lira from 6.10 to 5.88. But this rate was 4.45 a year ago right before a tweet by Trump about the release of the arrested American pastor Andrew Brunson; the lira has depreciated almost by a third in a year. On the same day, the Turkish Statistical Institution (TUIK) has revealed a shrink of 2.6 in the Turkish economy during the first quarter of 2019 after a 3.0 shrink in the last quarter of 2018. The rises in inflation (near 20 per cent), interest rates (more than 20 per cent), and unemployment (near 15 per cent) in turn, had an impact in Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) losing the municipalities of all big cities in the March 31st local elections, and is also likely to have an impact on the re-run of the Istanbul elections on June 23.
In his recent commentary on the Washington Post on June 4, Ekrem İmamoğlu of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) stated that his campaign’s victory on March 31 against the AKP’s Binali Yıldırım was seized from him by the Supreme Election Board (YSK). He claimed that this happened as a result of President Erdoğan’s manipulation, but said he believed he would win with an even greater margin on June 23. Possible U.S. sanctions imposed before the elections with their impact on the economy could put the AKP win in Istanbul election in greater jeopardy. The expectations about a Trump-Erdogan meeting in Tokyo in the premises of the G20 Summit on June 28-29 shows that Trump has saved Erdogan from the risk of sanctions before the Istanbul re-run; also avoiding a possible rhetorical twist by Erdogan who could resort to claiming that it was the Americans who caused him to lose the elections in case İmamoğlu wins again.
If established, such a study group might save time for Erdoğan not only for the elections, but for the delivery of both S-400s (first batch scheduled for July) and delivery of F-35s (first two scheduled to arrive in Turkey in November). Erdoğan could use the study of the group as a justification for not making the S-400s operable, or not “opening the boxes” even when after being delivered to Turkey. He could use this to review his decision in accordance with the results of the study group as a face- saving move justified by Turkey’s loyalty to the NATO defense. On the other hand, Trump’s green light to a study group could be Erdogan’s last resort in the S-400 purchase deal where he wanted to use Russian leverage to reach a deal with Americans who refused to sell Patriots to Turks for years up until Turks announced the S-400s.
Actually, Trump’s move about the study is serving more to save himself from possible accusations by Erdoğan due to the elections by giving him support in an attempt to postpone the sanctions to the post-election time at least but making the Turkish economy more vulnerable to Trump’s tweets.
And if the study group fails after the election, then Trump may not use his presidential capacities to stop sanctions on Turkey which could put Erdogan in a more difficult situation, as Russia’s Putin closely monitors the developments between the two NATO members, at a time when Turkey and Russia have started to experience strains in Syria over the ceasefire violations in Idlib amid Turkish worries about its military presence in Syria and another wave of migration.


There might still be a chance to exit the S-400 crisis between the U.S. and Turkey

It is almost clear what might happen if all chances are not exhausted in the crisis between the U.S. and Turkey over the Turkish decision to purchase Russian S-400 missile systems. Here are some of them:

  • Russian missiles would be delivered to Turkey soon and be activated,
  • The U.S. Administration would then likely suspend the delivery program of F-35 jets to Turkey and announce economic sanctions on the country. This will affect not only the Turkish economy but also Turkey’s future military purchases from the U.S.,
  • In reaction to that, Turkey might limit the activities of the U.S. in its territory, including those conducted at the strategic airbase of Incirlik, and the early warning radar of the Missile Shield project in Malatya,
  • In return, the Americans could suspend the talks with Turks over a possible “security zone” along the Syria border and increase collaboration with the PKK affiliate YPG as the backbone of SDF out there,
  • Turkey’s military hits on the YPG could bring back to mind U.S. President Donald Trump’s tweets where he speaks of “devastating” the Turkish economy. It could also bring to mind the currency crisis Turkey suffered during the Brunson row in late summer 2018,
  • Americans can force Turkey further to pick sides between them and Turkey’s neighbour Iran, amid threats of more sanctions,
  • Economically and militarily cornered, President Tayyip Erdoğan could get into closer cooperation with Russia and China.
    There might be other scenarios in question if the crisis follows the current trajectory. Yet there is still a chance to exit it, which could stop the deepening of the chasm between Turkey and the U.S. This could save the Turkish economy from worse circumstances that could in turn also contribute to the weakening of its alliance with the NATO. Otherwise it’s already too late to expect Erdoğan to be willing to give the impression of paddling back against Trump’s threats, or expect Trump to give concessions to Erdoğan so as to make Russian President Vladimir Putin happier, or expect Putin to miss the opportunity to further expand one of the biggest diplomatic chasms that Moscow was able to trigger within the NATO.
    The exit from the crisis could necessitate NATO involvement.
    The Americans have not even yet answered Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s proposal to the U.S. Secretary of State, made months ago, to set up a “technical” commission that would determine whether the use of the S-400s could really open holes in NATO (and U.S.) air and missile defence over the use of the F-35s. That is the basic objection by the American military in reference to the recent House of Representatives voting which said if Turkey would not cancel the purchase, Turkey should be taken out of the F-35 program and be subjected to economic sanctions. Çavuşoğlu, on the other hand, said that Norwegian and Israeli F-35 have been flying in the presence of S-400s in the Baltics and Syria for some time and if they are able to learn everything from each other, so far S-400s should have learned everything about Western defence. He added that it was possible for Turkey not to plug the S-400s to NATO system and to instead use it separately.
    So far American diplomacy has ruled that option out and said that even if the S-400 would not be taken out of their boxes, the red line would be considered crossed. That is despite what the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said following his meeting with Erdoğan in Ankara on May 6 that, defying F-35s from Turkey could harm the overall NATO system, not only Turkey. It is a 20-year project and Turkey is a co-producer.
    Let’s take the Brunson case as an example; a case where Trump (and Vice President Mike Pence) believe that they got the pastor freed by applying monetary pressure on Turkey. They might think that they can do the same in S-400s rift. However this time there is a variety of other strong factors, such as Putin, Syria, and Erdoğan’s commitment to domestic politics concerning Turkey’s determination to buy whichever weapon it can afford for its national defence.
    In the meantime, another diplomatic channel has been opened between Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan. Despite endorsing Erdoğan and Çavuşoğlu’s positions that the S-400 is a “done deal” and recently saying that Turkey has started to take its precautions in case possible sanctions could hit other Turkish military purchases, Akar also underlines that the talks are ongoing.
    There was an interesting detail voiced (again by Akar) during the American-Turkish Council meetings, in Washington in mid-April. In the opening session of the meetings, Akar carefully highlighted that “Turkey will stay in NATO” and that it was a part of modern Turkish identity.
    Ankara’s aim is not to leave NATO but a redefinition of its place in the Western system, especially vis-a-vis the U.S. Erdoğan aid it a number of times that Turkey doesn’t an to be a buyer only like many other countries in the region. The European members of NATO are well aware of that. Akar revealed recently that the French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed Erdoğan during the last NATO summit that his country was ready to send Turkey a Sampt-T missile battery for urgent needs, instead of harming NATO system. Turkey is currently engaged in feasibility talks with EuroSam for the French-Italian consortium for the joint design and production of NATO-interoperable missile defence systems.
    Leaving the proposal of having a bilateral Turkish-American commission to examine S-400/F-35 situation, Ankara is now testing the waters for the possibility of a commission with the inclusion of the NATO. Turkish sources say the government would accept whatever would come out of such a commission. If such a trilateral commission is established, Turkey could be ready to avoid opening the box of the S-400s until the report of the commission is out. This could possibly be interpreted by Trump and the Congress as a sign that the deal could be done but not “completed”. The report of such a commission could give a face-saving exit rhetoric to President Erdoğan regarding the Turkish public opinion. Because as Akar keeps stressing, Turkey has no strategy to leave the NATO.
    That could upset Putin with possible consequences concerning Syria, as well as Turkish tourism and agricultural exports to Russia. But on the other hand, Russia has interests in cooperating with Turkey; they already harmed the NATO solidarity and made Americans acknowledge that S-400s are superior to the American Patriot missile systems. Regarding the PKK rift with Americans in Syria, one could pay more attention to what is happening between Erdoğan’s government and the PKK’s imprisoned leader nowadays; perhaps another “dialogue” process, this time including Syria might be on its way.

Turkey writes history by defeating one-man -rule through ballot box: opposition leader

“This has never happened in political history before” Turkish opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu claims; “It’s the first time that a one-man rule was defeated through the ballot box:; we’re writing a new chapter in political history.”
He carried on to elaborate that the results of the March 31 municipal elections, where the country’s five largest cities were won by the CHP candidates, despite President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s great efforts to transform the country into a one-man -rule, were the proof of that defeat. Upon persistent applications and statements by Erdoğan, the Supreme Election Board (YSK), which consists of high judges, had cancelled the Istanbul results on May 6, officially declaring a re-run for Istanbul metropolitan municipality elections, setting it to take place on June 23.
“We will do it again” Kılıçdaroğlu claimed during our conversation where another colleague, Muharrem Sarıkaya of HaberTürk was also present, right after his address to his Parliamentary group on May 20; “We took every measure to prevent ballot box fraud. There will be a volunteer lawyer, observing each and every [31,186] ballot box in addition to the official ballot officers. If there won’t be any road accident, our candidate, Ekrem İmamoğlu will win again with a better margin.”
Kılıçdaroğlu says that Erdoğan did not expect the defeat, especially in Istanbul, and that even AKP voters who “have a conscience” were having difficulties accepting the lost election’s re-run. Using the term “road accident”, Kılıçdaroğlu implies there might be unforeseeable moves towards postponing the election, or another YSK move upon Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) if his candidate, former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım loses again.
İmamoğlu had won the election with a difference of 13 thousand votes among Istanbul’s 11 million registered voters, yet some 1.5 had not turned up on March 31. Istanbul municipality is important for Erdoğan not only because it was the start of his rise in politics 25 years ago, but also because the city is home to one-sixth of Turkey’s population of 82 million, producing almost a third of the country’s GDP. İmamoğlu claimed that funds have been siphoned from the budget of the municipality to the foundations and companies close to Erdoğan’s AKP, referring to the documents he has seen during the 17 days in office before the YSK cancelled his mandate.
On May 20, during his appearance on a CNN International affiliate CNN Türk TV program, İmamoğlu started to give some figures regarding the financial irregularities of the municipality under a 25- year rule. Under AKP mayors. The show was live, and the anchor, Ahmet Hakan Coşkun, abruptly ended the program 40 minutes earlier than its previously announced runtime. Emin Çapa, who used to be the head of the economy desk before getting fired by the channel’s new owners, said in his Twitter account that Çoşkun ended the program after CNN Türk directors urged him to upon warnings from government circles. “That TV program was shameful,” Kılıçdaroğlu said. He too had been mocked much earlier by another anchor, Buket Aydın of Kanal-D (another channel belonging to the same media group as CNN Türk), before the first run of the municipal elections on March 31. It is worth noting once again that about 90 per cent of the media outlets in Turkey owned by investors close to Erdoğan.
The stakes are high in Istanbul but Turkey’s economy is in trouble with the rises in inflation, unemployment and , interest rates, as well as the current account deficit. In his address to Parliament, Kılıçdaroğlu recalled an earlier statement of Finance and Treasury Minister Berat Albayrak, also President Erdoğan’s son in law; Albayrak had promised that 2.5 million new jobs would be created in 2019. “1 million 376 thousand more people lost their jobs in the last year,” said Kılıçdaroğlu, accusing Albayrak of being incompetent.
Turkey’s foreign policy issues, topped by the rift with the U.S. over the purchase of Russian made S-400 missiles and American threats to stop the delivery of the jointly produced F-35 fighter jets puts additional pressure on the economy, as Erdoğan so far ruled out any deal with the IMF for a stand-by program.


Atatürk’s legacy and Erdoğan’s Turkey

A hundred years ago on May 19, 1919, Mustafa Kemal Pasha set foot on the Black Sea port of Samsun as a young general of the defeated Turkish army under the Ottoman Rule with a handful of his brothers in arms. His mission as the commander of the 9th Army as mandated by Sultan Vahdettin was to suppress the Turkish nationalist resistance in the Eastern Black Sea region against the invading armies and their collaborators. Following the Mondros Armistice of October 30, 1918, ending the First World War for the Ottomans, Turkey was under the invasion of British, French Italian, Georgian and Armenian armies. Only four days before Kemal Pasha made it to Samsun, on another coast of the country on May 15, the Greek’s invasion of the Western port of Izmir had started: that was the final straw for many Turks.
Breaking the Sultan’s mandate, Kemal Pasha followed other plans that he had, uniting spontaneous civilian resistance groups with almost half of the military comprised of men who did not agree with the Sultan, and who thought he was only facilitating the works of the invaders. Kemal thus made his first manifestation in Amasya in June, which resulted in the Sheikh ul-Islam in Istanbul sentencing him to death in his absence. He convened the first resistance congress in the Eastern city of Erzurum in June, followed by Sivas in September. When he made his way to the central Anatolian town of Ankara in late December, he had officially become the leader of the Turkish resistance.
That’s why the 19th of May is considered as the beginning of the Turkish Independence War, which resulted in the end of the invasion, as well as the collapse of the six- century- long Ottoman dynasty, and the establishment of the Turkish Republic on October 29, 1923. Kemal, later adopting the surname Atatürk, meaning “father of Turks”, gave utmost importance to the date, and even registered it as his birth day. He designated it as the “Festival of Youth and Sports”, which is still being celebrated under the same name.
Reforms followed the establishment of the Republic. It was not a time where democracy was at its peak in Europe; Mussolini was in power in Italy, Hitler was inching towards Germany and Russia was under Stalin’s Soviet rule. Yet, Atatürk took some radical steps towards attaining the level of development in what he dubbed “contemporary civilization”, namely Western civilization. Separating state and religion through secular rule was a start. From equal electoral rights for women to changing scripture from Arabic to Latin letters, replacing the Islamic calendar with its universal counterpart, to adopting the Italian penal code and the French and Swiss civil codes he managed to get this “new Turkey” recognized by the international community.
The first iron and steel complex of the country, state sponsored textile factories, shoe factories, sugar factories and the railways… A modern Turkey, perhaps poorer but proud.
His number two, İsmet İnönü, who saved the country from the disasters of the Second World War, maintained the country’s place in the Western world afterwards. İnönü also paved the way towards turning the one-party regime under the Republican People’s Party (CHP) into a multi-party democracy in 1950.
Five decades after it was that very same democracy, wounded by three Cold- War- style military coups, which brought the Justice and Development Party (AKP) into power in November 2002, with its Islamist/conservative ideology and its charismatic leader, former mayor of Istanbul , Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
He was celebrated by Turkey’s western allies, especially by the U.S. who were upset with the Turkish Army which they believed did notr do their best to convince the AKP government for opening up Turkish territories for American troops to invade neighbouring Iraq in 2003. Ignoring a handful of politicians and commentators saying that the political enthusiasm of the military was not the only problem on the road to a better democracy and economy in Turkey, Erdoğan enjoyed full support from the West in his first years, seen as a cure for Kemalist modernism in the army, as well as the judiciary and educational systems: he was going to transform it all.
Erdoğan did indeed transform the Turkish system but to the great disappointment of his one-time supporters in the West.
All executive powers are now in President Erdoğan’s hands; something which Atatürk did not enjoy and actually rejected when proposed. That weakened the role of the parliament and the judiciary.
Erdoğan wants a “mosque-oriented society” in Turkey, as he recently stated. Still secular on paper and in the Constitution, religion plays a greater role in state affairs. This did have its consequences: In 2016 there was a military coup attempt in Turkey conspired by an Islamist faction with its chief living in the U.S.; the generals who had abused Atatürk’s name for their own power games now pay lip service only when they really have to mention his name.
Nowadays, Turkey is debating the role of the judiciary in cancelling the March 31 municipal elections in Istanbul after the opposition CHP candidate’s win. Following insistent applications and statements by Erdoğan’s AKP, the Supreme Election Board which, consists of high judges ruled in favor of the re-run on June 23. The politicization problem of the judiciary evidently still exists.
The traditional Turkish foreign policy motto “Peace at home, peace in the world” is much damaged, especially after the break of the Arab Spring in 2010. Turkish involvement in the Syrian civil war boosted the terrorism problem in Turkey. The country’s name has started to be mentioned alongside Salafi terror groups, shaming many Turkish citizens. Once a co-founder of the Council of Europe, Turkey is seen as a country in the Middle East quagmire, using its relations with Russia and Iran as a leverage against the U.S. And the U.S. administrations, which used to consider Erdoğan as an exemplary role model on democratic rule in a Muslim society, are now turning him into a target for hatred, collaborating with Turkey’s number one security problem: the PKK in Syria. Back in 1999, they had helped the arrest of its leader.
The economy is in decline which is not helped by Erdoğan’s appointment of his son-in-law as the Finance and Treasury Minister. Erdoğan knows that another IMF program could help Turkey, but he has not been in good terms with concepts like transparency and accountability; the public procurement law has been amended more than a hundred times according to the needs of the day since the last IMF program was in effect when Erdoğan took the power. Inflation is on the rise, unemployment is on the rise, interest rates and current account deficit are on the rise but it is not always easy to voice them. Some ninety per cent of the media outlets is now in the hands of investors in the orbit of Erdoğan.
When some politicians complained to him about the press “writing everything”, Atatürk had said “the solution to problems sourcing from the freedom of press, is the freedom of press” and that was 1934.
On this centennial anniversary of the start of the Turkish resistance against not only invading armies but also a corrupt Sultan, for the sake of a better future for Turkey, and as a journalist believing in that goal, it is not possible for me not to remember Atatürk.