How to interpret the Istanbul election results

MARKAR ESAYAN
Published 29.06.2019 00:08
Updated 29.06.2019 02:20

Turkey held a rerun of the Istanbul mayoral elections on June 23, in a highly peaceful atmosphere and with democratic maturity. Supported by the Nation Alliance, Republican People's Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu won the vote by a wide margin.

Those who congratulated him first were President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Binali Yıldırım, the People's Alliance mayoral candidate from the Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

During the March 31 local elections, the Istanbul mayoral vote raised serious doubts. After a recount of only 10 percent of the vote, the difference between Ekrem İmamoğlu and Binali Yıldırım decreased from 29,000 to 13,000.

Actually, the AK Party did not demand the renewal of the elections but a total recount. But the Istanbul Provincial Election Board rejected this request after a midnight meeting with a CHP delegation. The judge who chaired the Istanbul Provincial Election Board left the office by applying for retirement immediately after the elections.

One thing is certain: If a total recount had been conducted, Binali Yıldırım would have won that election by a clear margin. As the Supreme Election Council (YSK) upheld the Istanbul Provincial Election Board's decision, there was no other option than to renew the elections. There were thousands of unlawfully appointed ballot box chairs and polling clerks. The YSK ruled for a rerun election since irregularities could have changed the outcome because the vote difference was negligible.

In the aftermath of the revote decision, however, the People's Alliance failed to communicate the reasons for the decision to the public. The CHP candidate skillfully used the perception of unjust treatment, which is a success in its own right. After all, not the truth itself but the perception it created became more important. That the People's Alliance and its media focused on the CHP candidate has further bolstered that perception of victimhood.

The main game changer

Of course, as in every other election, the main determinant of this election was the economy. Turkey has been facing a serious speculative attack for a while now. Credit rating agencies unfairly downgrade Turkey's credit rating. It's hard to deny that these moves are being made to shape Turkey's elections and shake Erdoğan's government.

Doubtless to say, the People's Alliance, which is composed of the ruling party and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), knew well how decisive the economy is in voter choices. Successive dollar operations made life quite difficult for the man on the street. At a time when national economies become highly integrated in a globalized world, it takes quite an effort to not see that the "dishonest" attacks on Turkey stem from political motivations. Certainly, the reason for these attacks is the independent foreign policy that Erdoğan's Turkey is following on Syria, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Indeed, it just so happens that members of the CHP-led Nation Alliance pursue a line of discourse and promises that are in tune with foreign circles. They do not oppose the creation of a PKK corridor in northern Syria. Nor do they care about Palestine at all. They say, "What are we doing in the Eastern Mediterranean!" It's no secret that they will grant amnesty to the bloody-handed perpetrators of the July 15 coup, members of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), restrain operations against the PKK and pull forces back into the country.

Without a doubt, after 17 years of strong one-party government, the alignment of the CHP, which has failed to compete with the AK Party, with the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which has lost its chance to become the new main opposition party due to its pro-violence stance and its ties with the PKK, was expected. Even the inclusion of the Good Party (İP), which appeals to secular nationalists in the West snatched from the MHP, into the Nation Alliance along with marginal socialist mini-parties and the Felicity Party (SP), could not allow for surpassing the AK Party, either.

Despite all these efforts, the March 31 elections were a tight race. Indeed, this is a shame for the opposition. For they failed to easily win the race for mayor of a city that had been governed by the AK Party for a quarter of a century, although virtually all the other political groups joined forces and rigged the vote.

In my opinion, the difference between the results of the March 31 and June 23 elections results from an extraordinary situation.

Voters were not persuaded about the vote rigging during the March 31 elections and rejected what they saw as obstinacy. They preferred the CHP's candidate. I believe that this is the main reason for the difference of about 800,000 votes.

Turkey left behind the election. The AK Party came first nationwide in the March 31 local elections. It managed to solely garner 45 percent of the vote, as compared to 39 percent in the 2009 elections. The People's Alliance received 51.64 percent of the vote in total, while the Nation Alliance got only 37.57 percent. Of course, the HDP's vote must be added to the latter percentage, which brings the total vote share of the Nation Alliance to 41.81 percent.

Certainly, we will see in the coming period what this alliance of strange bedfellows agreed on and how it will continue. An anti-Erdoğan stance alone would not satisfy voters who were temporarily lured to the Nation Alliance, as they will expect services and new initiatives. Only the CHP's electorate votes unquestioningly for their party with anti-Erdoğan zeal. But there are those now within the newly emerged 41.81 percent who make rational choices. Let's wait and see what they will do to turn these people into loyal voters.

Post-election road map

In any case, President Erdoğan has a full four years in office remaining. He will be able to focus on the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean, free of electoral concerns. Surely, the economy will come to the fore and there will be no compromise on security issues.

Meanwhile, the AK Party should also do serious self-criticism as to the votes that it has either lost or failed to attract.

Citizens of the Republic of Turkey know the critical processes the country is undergoing, that the world is on the eve of a new order and that the country is facing existential threats, and they trust President Erdoğan. But voters also expect their living conditions to improve, their prosperity to rise, or at least to maintain their current level while these difficult jobs are dealt with.

After a tough 17-year period, voters have given President Erdoğan a clear mandate and the People's Alliance a parliamentary majority. Local elections saw the alliance achieve critical success as well. Opposition mayors-elect in Istanbul and Ankara have to work under the supervision of municipal councils that are largely dominated by the People's Alliance.

Above all, the libel that there is a dictatorial regime in Turkey was refuted once again. Elections were held in a peaceful environment and those elected took office, showing the world that the national will is the ultimate authority.

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