Ahead of next month's rerun elections in Istanbul, mayoral candidates from both electoral alliances are seeking to further an affirmative agenda. They rely on an extensive communications network to reach out to all social groups. The political battle, which is being fought on social media and television, focuses on micro messages. The candidates fight with humane gestures and displays of emotional moments. Both Binali Yıldırım and Ekrem İmamoğlu tell voters small stories to show that they are capable of running the city.
The Republican People's Party (CHP) candidate invests more than anyone in optics. imamoğlu is busy trying to hide the fact that he is running on the ticket of the CHP, a political party that simply cannot change, and to make himself look like a conservative. The CHP candidate's goal is to either win over or confuse conservative voters.
Perception management is indeed a critical part of any election campaign. It is particularly important at a time when perception takes precedence over reality. Let us not assume, however, that voters, bombarded by carefully tailored messages, no longer care about candidates being genuine. Voters can spot lack of genuineness sooner or later.
As such, the one factor that will distinguish the winner from the loser in the upcoming mayoral race will be their sincerity. In other words, it is a battle of genuineness. Face-to-face communication and social media are merely battlegrounds. The candidates are looking to win over registered voters who did not participate in the March 31 election, alienated voters, young voters and conservatives.
Conservatives are particularly important among those groups. After all, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) base's preferences will determine the outcome of next month's election. That includes alienated and skeptical voters as well as no-shows. They will decide based on the genuineness of both candidates' statements and images. They will decide whether Istanbul, which conservative mayors have managed for 25 years, will go to a CHP candidate.
For some time, I have felt that the AK Party's grassroots politics has been confined within itself. This is the inevitable disadvantage that a mass party, which receives 50% of the vote thanks to a powerful leader, suffers. By politics, people tend to mean either criticism of the policies of their own party or a fight over influential positions within the party organization. The opposition's mistakes and anger, it seems, matters less to them.
Perhaps this is how real power feels. Yet it is a serious problem that some people end up targeting their own party with the opposition's talking points without thinking what is at stake. It amounts to falling prey to the opposition's strategy of turning the AK Party against itself.
İmamoğlu hired campaign managers who know the AK Party's strengths and weaknesses. They work hard to manipulate conservative voters' complaints. That the CHP deliberately conceals its anti-Erdoğanism and CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu avoids public appearances are about influencing conservatives and depriving the AK Party's conservative base of motivation.
To be clear, the CHP's anti-Erdoğanism and anti-AK Party sentiment is perfectly consolidated. Beneath the tip of the iceberg, everything remains the same. The secularist anger toward the AK Party is very much alive, but tactically underplayed. İmamoğlu's discourse is not rooted in some kind of self-criticism within the CHP or a genuine transformation. It is merely a coat of conservative paint – a feat of electioneering. If İmamoğlu wins, that single coat of paint will go away, revealing the harsh demands of the CHP, Good Party (İP) and Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) voters at the expense of conservatives.
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