Erdogan's Troubling Times

Photo Source: Guardian

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe UpFront

The loss of Ankara and Istanbul, in the mayoral election, has proved a major setback for Recep Tayyib Erdogan. 

Many neighbourhoods in Turkey were tense lately, as people were glued to the television sets, in regards to the recent mayor election outcomes, that reflected a somewhat changed democratic mindset.

Erdogan seems to have become aloof, recently, with very few aides and ministers, hanging around with him, in his presidential palace. In Erdogan's political lobby, he has been seen someone like an Ottoman Sultan, having an imperial presidency under his name. But, if Erdogan amends the constitution now, to stir up voter base, then he wouldn’t enjoy political authority.

This mayoral election has been seen as a referendum and his overall leadership evaluation, against the backdrop of economic meltdown in the country.

Supporters of Republican Peoples Party have been seen jubilating in Istanbul, waving the crescent red flag of their country, when they saw their candidate, just a fraction ahead. In total, he has lost control in seven out of twelve major cities. In eastern Turkey, the leftist Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) has also made gains.

In Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, was declared successful at 48.79 per cent, against his closest rival Binali Yildrim, who gained 48.51 percent. In capital Ankara, Mansur Yavas won 50.91 percent of vote, over Mehmet Ozhaseki at 47.1 percent.

According to Lisel Hintz, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, Turkey has a robust and deep belief in democratic structures, a resilient civil society, that has stood the test of time, in the last 16 years.

In the last General Election itself, the voter turnout was 87%, one of the highest in the world.

Erdogan’s populism has struggled lately, due to Turkey’s burdening economic crises, elevated since 2018. Government spending on prestige infrastructure, rising interest rates and debt levels were largely ignored under his regime. There was a recession in March 2019. His son-in-law, the Treasury and Finance Minister, announced a series of economic reforms, starting from the banking sector, but they were met in a lukewarm manner. Unemployment exceeds ten per cent now, and it is 30 per cent among young people. The Turkish Lira has lost 28 per cent of its value, since 2018, and inflation has soared upto 20 percent. Government has setup tents, where they sell farmer’s produce at a loss, damaging the retail business. In some areas, traders have hoarded up stocks, which has inflated commodity prices. At large, there have been no long-term solutions in agriculture, industrial sector and the tourism sector.

Despite lodged appeals for discrepancies by AKP, the opposition candidates were still shown ahead. The application to rerun for Istanbul’s mayor’s race is seen by many regional observers, as a last ditch to avoid losing control, in Turkey’s two largest cities. By being 13,000 votes ahead, it seems Ekrem Imamoglu, nicknamed in the press as ‘Turkish Emmanuel Macron’, from the rival opposition, will likely be the new Istanbul mayor.

AKP’s deputy leader, Ali Ihsan Yavuz believes that the irregularities included 16,000 votes for Justice and Development Party that have been erroneously recorded for other parties. However, his opponents believe that filing a rerun for the election race is disrespect for the law.  As of now, AKP party is in a split, whether to accept the final result or keep pushing for a new vote.

“The invalid ballots are counted, and it is over,” Imamoglu said.

This not the first time Turk politicians have been unhappy with the election result. As per Kimberly Guiler, a research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Middle East Initiative, Erdogan called for snap elections, in 2015, as he had a conflict with PKK, in order to stir up concerns such as national insecurity, and to swing the pendulums, in his favour, for an election win. There were allegations of the government tampering with the election result, in 2015.

In his adventures of kleptocracy, Erdogan has insisted that nobody challenges him. There has been only one authority, in Turkey, lately, under his command. It has allowed him to tyrannise many sections of the army, police, courts and the press. Some analysts believe that Turkey has experienced democratic backsliding under his rule.

In 2016, there was a failed military attempt to overthrow him, that he blamed on his rival, Fethullah Gulen, some foreign plot makers and the US military, but Erdogan, somehow, moved on. However, in the coming time, he fired hundreds of bureaucrats including judges, prosecutors and lawyers from their jobs, who didn’t tow the line of his party’s narrative. Historically, he managed to handle the coups, against him, through Sledgehammer and Ergenekon court cases, and also began negotiations with the PKK political party, until the ceasefire again broke down in 2015.

Despite having a share of his criticism, people have also applauded his political talents, and some development measures, which largely attributed to his leadership success. There are many foreign honours and numerous awards bestowed to him. In 1994, he started off as a mayor, representing the Islamic Welfare Party, and after that, there was no looking back for him.

These results won’t, however, likely change Erdogan’s political behaviour, which includes promoting religious values over secularism, closer ties to Russia, the United States, and good relations with NATO. Erdogan has four more years under his presidency.

As per inputs from Financial Times, a new election would scare away overseas investors, as political and geopolitical issues would decide trade factors. Also, the ruling government wouldn’t try to miss an opportunity to influence the judiciary, in their favour, for a rerun in the election. It is because the judiciary in Turkey has increasingly come under government pressure, in recent years.

For the opposition party, winning the mayoral elections was a time of momentous change. They have been criticised for a lack of organisation, but this time around, it seems, everything went in their favour. It also gives them an opportunity to improve garbage collection measures and mass transit schemes. As mayor, Imamoglu has also promised that he would audit books for alleged corruption cases, a prospect that could create new problems for AKPs ruling watch.

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