A mayoral election in distant Turkey would not have been of much moment were it not for the affirmation of the psephological message. It has been a signal victory of people’s democracy in the truest sense of the term. Sunday’s mayoral election ~ a re-run actually ~ in the Turkish capital of Istanbul has at once yielded a landslide victory for the Opposition candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, and a setback for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
After winning the elections in March with a margin of 13,000 votes in a constituency of 10 million, Imamoglu was denied victory on dubious legal grounds, with the High Electoral Council decreeing that fresh elections should be held on 23 June. And so it was. The Istanbul electorate has given a robust mandate to Imamoglu, leading to an almost incredible 60-fold rise in majority (800,000) and with the support of 54 per cent of the citizens of Turkey’s largest city.
In contrast, Binali Yildirim, the ruling AKP candidate, received 45 per cent of the votes. Four months ago, the denial of victory to Imamoglu by the High Electoral Council was faintly reminiscent of the predicament of Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar in 1991. Her eventual victory was also affirmed in November 2015. The rest is history. The euphoric celebrations in the country’s largest city of Istanbul also signify a moral setback for the establishment in Turkey. The signal thus emitted resonates throughout the country. President Erdogan’s loss could well transform Turkish politics. The election in Istanbul and the landslide victory of Imamoglu are huge tests for Turkey’s ruling AKP. The impressive margin is primarily due to the people’s sense of injustice, triggered by the decision to repeat the elections. Critically enough, a significant share of the vote shifted directly from the AKP candidate to the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) contestant. There was a groundswell of resentment to the fact that Imamoglu’s victory in March had been unfairly challenged, indeed signifying a degree of intolerance towards the Opposition.
He provided a fresh alternative to the citizens of Istanbul, their patience sorely tried by what they call the “acrimonious and exclusionary political rhetoric”. Arguably in the age of populism, Imamoglu’s campaign has been significant enough to have global implications in the fight against the new electoral trend. He has been particularly effective in cementing Turkey’s fragmented Opposition, notably including the CHP, the secular nationalist Iyi party, as well as the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic party (HDP). A cross-section has coalesced to ensure the Opposition victory and the defeat of the ruling AKP. The outcome is a threat to Erdogan, and the AKP leadership is bound to reflect on Sunday’s result, verily a reversal of the President’s political fortunes.