The gusts of the winds of change in the region of the Middle East have finally caught up with Turkey. After over a decade of AKP rule in Turkey, the tide has turned. Following the recent Turkish mayoral elections in June 26th, it was the Republican People’s Party candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu who emerged victorious bearing the hard – earned title of “Mayor of Istanbul”.
Erdoğan’s party is faced with new challenges, more difficulties and growing scepticism at home. Despite the initial thoughts that Erdoğan will continue ruling unbothered, exercising his seemingly limitless control and reassuring his hold over Turkey, the mayoral elections’ results show otherwise.
Many wondered what enabled İmamoğlu to achieve mayoral victory in the June elections. For others, however, this question was easily answered.
The high inflation rates, that reached 19.5 in April and 18.71 in May, accompanied by the continuous contraction in the early months of 2019 as well as the Turkish Lira Crisis of 2018 are three of the major factors that inspired even the most devoted of Erdoğan’s followers to rethink their political decisions and refrain from casting a vote for the AKP’s candidate, Binali Yildirim. What is more, Erdoğan committed two other mistakes that cost him the AKP victory. By cancelling the initial elections that were to be held in March and by reluctantly rather than firmly accepting the outcome of the vote, Erdoğan opened himself up to waves of national and international criticism.
The catapult, that was already in place, was fired, shaking everything in its wake.
After the results of the June elections, the President’s public image wasn’t that of an almighty and hard-to-challenge political figure. It was that of a domestically weaker leader, who was steadily losing touch with people at home and, in essence, with Turkey’s reality. Though he regarded it as a minor setback that wouldn’t prevent his party from ruling in the fashion it did, “without compromising democracy, the rule of law and the peace, prosperity and stability” of Turkey, the result of the June elections amounts to a political earthquake of immense dimensions that has shaken traditional and political Turkish institutions to their core.
It was İmamoğlu, a virtually unknown district mayor, who, not only challenged the future of the Erdoğan regime and the AKP rule, but also marked a shift of voters towards Turkey’s opposition party. Many have argued that this defeat has caused irreparable damage to the Erdoğan regime and has allowed the Turkish opposition to thrive. The end of the 25 year dominance of the AKP over Istanbul comes at a critical time during Erdoğan’s rule and marks an apparent decline in the influence, stability and future of the President’s rule.
The recent trend of democratising the region of the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) has reached Turkey, which has been swept along the path that other neighbouring countries have recently adopted. The crises that erupted in Algeria, Sudan, Mali, Cameroon and other African countries have signalled an end to the long period of weak and undemocratic rule as well as a fierce need of the citizens to take hold of their own political obligations and civil life.
Many have described this as a Second Arab Spring, only 8 years after the end of the First. The crises in Algeria and Sudan indicate that such a massive movement isn’t far from possible, and the heated political developments at the heart of Turkey’s largest city only serve as a further reaffirmation of the initial hypothesis.
Is Erdoğan’s defeat the beginning of a new era for Turkey? Has the ship called “Türkiye” changed its course so drastically, yet also efficiently, over the course of a few months?
Both answers can be cautiously answered with a yes.
It would be important to keep in mind that elections are a nation’s attempt to express the popular view and/or demand change. The outcome of the Turkish mayoral elections, therefore, proves that it was a refreshing change, a change of direction and an alteration of political representation that the majority of Turkish citizens ( 54.21% ) needed. By supporting the opposition’s candidate, the population expressed their desire for something new. But has this opposition reached its goal, or is there still a long road ahead?
The new mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem İmamoğlu, representative of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), followed by supporters. (Chris McGrath for Getty Images)
For Turkey’s opposition, this brief yet rejuvenating victory does little to hide the long road that is to be covered and that lies ahead. Though İmamoğlu’s achievement in winning Istanbul played a catalytic role in changing the shift of political developments, the CHP has yet to cover a long road before confidently paving the road for victory in general elections that are expected to be held in 2023.
The main challenges that the CHP is now faced with is successfully administering Istanbul and showing no sign of weakness, as well as using this historic victory as a stepping stone that will help them succeed in the national elections.
For İmamoğlu and the CHP, it won’t be an easy journey.
Despite receiving 60% name recognition outside Istanbul in recent opinion polls, astounding percentage bearing in mind the AKP-dominated media outlets that fiercely promote Erdoğan and his party, the CHP is faced with the challenge of upholding this refreshing, powerful and determined image until 2022 when the next elections are expected to be held. The opposition is also expected to present a united front, a unified and resolute political entity if they want to increase their support outside Istanbul.
The wave of change is surging through the MENA region and is slowly engulfing the wider international scene. The need and deeply rooted desire for democracy, change and fairer representation couldn’t have been more emphatically shown in Turkey.
The result of the mayoral elections represented the beginning of a massive political earthquake, bound to shake Turkey to its core and make Erdoğan question the future of the AKP, as well as his own rule. The swing away from both Erdoğan and his ruling party signalled the change in the course that Turkey, and eventually the wider MENA region, is to take in the next years.
The question that remains unanswered is whether the one who loses Istanbul also loses Turkey. Will this prove true for Erdoğan? The next few months will, hopefully, solve this riddle.
Image source: https://unsplash.com/photos/eMnDY44Fus8