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Turkey Elections Point to Public Opinion Turning Against Erdogan

In the first elections, the opposition leader won by 13,000 votes. This time it was a margin of over 750,000 votes.

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Istanbul’s new mayor has made headlines. Why? Well, that’s what we’re going to tell you in this edition of the Big Story Podcast. We dive into the mayoral elections in Turkey’s Istanbul and why they are such a big deal.

Listen to the podcast for the rest of the story!

Ekrem Imamoglu from Turkey’s Republican People’s Party or the CHP defeated the candidate from President Erdogan’s AK Party, Binali Yildirim, to become the Mayor of Istanbul, not the first but for the second time in four months!

The same elections were first held in March this year. Imamoglu had won the elections by a slim margin of 13,000 votes over President Erdogan’s party. Erdogan’s AK Party or AKP proceeded to raise hell about his victory, alleging widespread irregularities in the voting.

What were these irregularities, you ask? Well, some of the officials overseeing the elections weren’t civil servants, was Erdogan’s complaint. He found it a big problem, which led the country’s electoral board to scrap the election’s result.

It was then that Imamoglu, who had been Mayor for all of 18 days, was stripped of his power and forced to step down by President Erdogan. The vote was annulled.

There would be a redo of the election on 23 June, the Electoral Board had said.

Interestingly, people overseeing elections in Turkey are often not civil servants. Previous elections had been held in the same way but in none of them, neither the previous district or the council elections did this pose a problem. Just in this one.

The opposition raised hell about this move, saying democracy was under threat. Hundreds of people took to Istanbul’s streets to protest the decision, banging pots and pans. Turkey’s Western allies and the EU criticised the move too.

But this move, with all the hope AKP had from it, dealt the final blow to Erdogan’s AKP in Istanbul.

In the redo elections held on Sunday, 23 June, Imamoglu won, this time not by a slim 13,000-vote margin but a massive 775,000-vote margin. The result is as clear as day.

The Republican People’s Party, i.e., the main opposition in Turkey, achieved a landslide victory. The RPP secured 54% of the vote in Istanbul and Imamoglu gave the party its second victory in less than four months.

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Why are Istanbul’s Mayoral Elections so important? Istanbul was where Erdogan began his rise to power, reigning as its mayor in the 1990s. In the past, he has been famously quoted as saying, “Whoever loses Istanbul, loses Turkey.”

The election results in March led the opposition to victory in Istanbul but by a very slim margin of just 13,000 votes. But after the redo elections, the margin grew from 13,000 to over 775,000, signifying a tremendous shift in public opinion against Erdogan.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been in power in Turkey since 2003. First as prime minister and then as president of Turkey. Support for Erdogan grew from 2003 through 2012 on the back of several policy reforms and improvements to Turkey’s economy and infrastructure.

Turkey’s GDP grew by 64% between 2002 and 2012. The country had borrowed heavily from the IMF in the past. Under Erdogan’s tenure, it reduced its debt to the IMF from $23.5 billion in 2003 to 0.9 billion in 2012.

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Under Erdogan, Turkey also increased its education budget, built more airports, passed laws against discrimination in employment, etc. But recession and growing financial crisis in the country led to faltering support for Erdogan.

Apart from this, controversies that have plagued Erdogan’s leadership still run rife. Accusations of stifling press freedom, arresting dissenters and enabling an authoritarian government form the tip of the iceberg. I spoke to The Quint’s foreign affairs correspondent Khemta Jose to understand the situation more deeply.

“In recent years, Erdogan has moved the country from a prime ministerial to a presidential system. After he became president, he abolished the post of prime minister. He’s also given himself sweeping new powers, powers over the judiciary and powers to pass things like presidential decrees. His party, the AKP, is an Islamist party, and under him, Turkey has lost its place as the poster-child for secular character and gone in a more Islamist direction.”
Khemta Jose, Foreign Affairs Correspondent, The Quint

And if that wasn’t bad enough for Erdogan, the March elections being annulled was another hit to the country’s economy, causing the Turkish Lira’s value to fall further.

With the AKP’s defeat in Istanbul, the second time in four months, the opposition in Turkey is now in power in the country’s three most important cities: Istanbul, Izmir and the capital of Ankara.

The opposition’s victory in Istanbul points to the beginning of a paradigm shift in Turkey’s politics.

In a country where the price of dissent seems to be increasing and where Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems intent on holding power at any cost, this verdict could be the stone that turns the tide.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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