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PostImamoglu Wins Istanbul Mayoral Election (Yusuf Kanli, Turkey, 06/24/19 6:56 am)
The much-anticipated but unexpectedly strong reelection of Ekrem İmamoğlu to the Istanbul metropolitan mayoral seat most probably will be remembered in years ahead as a turning point in the history of Turkish democracy.
The 9.2 percent difference between Mayor-Elect İmamoğlu and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate, former premier and parliament speaker Binali Yıldırım, clearly demonstrated the democratic commitment of the Turkish electorate.
The foremost factor that produced this result was perhaps the grassroots discontent with the ruling coalition and the way the March 31 vote for Istanbul mayor was annulled, while the city council and district mayor votes cast at the same time were considered legally valid.
In the Supreme Electoral Council-annulled elections of March 31st, there was a negligible 13,000 vote difference between the two candidates. The 9.2 percent or almost 800,000-vote difference in the rerun between the winner İmamoğlu and the loser Yıldırım indeed revealed a very strong disapproval of not only the opponents of the AKP and its partners but also of some supporters. This reaction of the electorate might produce some long-term consequences for the AKP, as it might have a reflection on the parliamentary ranks as well.
The second most important factor that affected the election result was the hope that the average Turkish voter, eager for stability, would buy into the systematic alienation and polarization tactics pursued by some government members, who hoped (as in the past) that polarization would work primarily to the advantage of the ruling coalition. The rather arrogant rhetoric regarding the ethnic background of İmamoğlu--of course being Greek cannot be an accusation--reached the extent of calling all Black Sea people "Greek." That hate speech consolidated the Black Sea support for İmamoğlu.
The third equally important factor was the "blame the other" tactic, which at the same time indulged in actions that went even further. İmamoğlu was accused of receiving the support of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democracy Party (HDP) and thus of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party--that is, implying collaboration with terrorists. He also got a declaration from Abdullah Öcalan--the imprisoned chieftain of the PKK serving a life term at the İmralı island prison--which tacitly called people to vote for Yıldırım or elect Öcalan's former guerrilla brother. "Reminding" people of the reforms undertaken by the AKP for Kurdish rights while blaming the CHPO of never undertaking a reform program just did not work. On the contrary such an action probably served to consolidate civilian leadership of the HDP as well as consolidate the Kurdish support for İmamoğlu.
The Istanbul vote will also have impact on the foreign policy of the country. Turkey exhausted its resources with a "tension with all" mentality which left it with almost with no friends. This foreign policy perspective--or indeed the absence of a disciplined foreign policy--can no longer be sustainable due to the worsening economic situation of the country.
In any country where voter behavior is primarily shaped by the electorate's pocketbook, no one can say that the Turkish electorate is better off on June 23 compared to March 31. Nor can anyone convince the Turks that tomorrow will bring better economic conditions as long as some sort of a moderation is undertaken. The June 23 vote, most probably, is a warning by the electorate to the government that rather than a single-handed governance, the country should move to a more participatory and pluralistic rule.
Lastly, the politics of tension and polarization lost on Sunday, while hope for the future and an urge for tranquility won.
With people embracing democracy so strongly, Turkey has made a new start.
JE comments: So good to hear from you, Yusuf. I presume Imamoglu is now the foremost rival and alternative to Erdogan. What has the Big Man had to say about the Istanbul election?