Articles > > Biting Fingers in Regret

Articles - Addostour - Date: 2019-06-25
By: Oraib Al Rantawi

Turkey's AKP (ruling Justice and Development Party), in power since 2002, must be biting its fingers in regret over Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's insistence on holding a rerun of Istanbul's municipal elections, after refusing to recognize the results of the first round in March.
 
At the time, the difference between the two candidates' results was something short of 14,000 votes. Today, the gap has widened to a registered vote difference of nearly 800,000. At the time, we said that Erdogan was bound to fail, regardless of whether his [AKP] candidate and friend Binali Yildirim won this particular election or not. Yildirim's victory would not have prevented the stigma of reprisal from continuing to haunt the ruling party for many years to come. And if his opponent were to defeat him, this would be felt many times over, especially with such a significant vote difference.
 
For a quarter of a century since 1994, Turkey's most populous city, which is considered to be its economic and spiritual capital, has been governed by Islamists. Based on his personal and political/partisan experience, Erdogan has been known to say that 'Whoever rules Istanbul rules Turkey.' Over one-fifth of the country's population (16 million people) live in the city. It produces about a third (31.2%) of the country's gross national product. Most of the Turkish middle class resides there, with an average per capita income of 65,000 lira, or quintuple their fellow citizens on the outskirts and in the countryside. No less than a third of Turkey's industrial production is concentrated in the city, with a budget of 10 billion dollars per year – exceeding that of the Turkish Ministry of Defense itself.
 
In the eyes of the AKP and the businessmen, contractors, and civil society institutions that have close ties to the party and the inner circle that orbits around its leader Erdogan, Istanbul is the goose that lays golden eggs. Most of the mega-projects slated for the city (for instance, the third bridge and new airport) were granted to such companies, and according to the Washington Post, the city footed the 150 million dollar bill for donations to institutions with close ties to the AKP as of 2018.
 
The city has now made its position known by voting against its former mayor Erdogan and his party and candidate for a third time. The first was in the [2017] constitutional referendum on a new presidential system, followed by the March 2019 municipal elections, and now in the day before yesterday's municipal re-run.
 
To make matters worse, the ruling party's defeat in Istanbul culminates a series of successive losses it has suffered in Turkey's major cities, including Ankara, Izmir, Mersin, Antalya, and others. The AKP is on its way to becoming a fringe/rural party with an electoral base made up of lower-income and lesser-educated conservative factions. The middle class, the more educated demographic, the business community, civil society, and civil and secular factions, as well as the Kurds, all seem to have decided to put an end to the ruling AKP coalition's success across a number of different elections, thereby closing the door on the era of hegemony and unilateral rule.
 
The AKP, which controls over 90% of the country's media, threw all its weight into the election campaign. Press coverage was unanimous in saying that the Turkish president had turned the Istanbul elections into 'distinctively presidential elections.' Alas, this was all to no avail as it neither stopped the wheel of change from turning nor slowed it down.
 
The ruling party has never hesitated to play the card of the 'Imrali prisoner' [PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) leader Abdullah Ocalan] accused of terrorism who has remained captive for over 20 years. On the eve of the Istanbul rerun, a message attributed to Ocalan was circulated, calling on the Kurds to stand neutral in the Istanbul elections. But another imprisoned Kurdish leader, [HDP (Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party) head] Selahattin Demirtas exposed this message as a smokescreen, revealing an attempt on the part of this alleged terrorist leader [Ocalan] to call in his political debts and incite his supporters to vote for Imamoglu, which helped turn the tables, especially since there are nearly two million Kurdish voters in Istanbul.
 
The results of both rounds of the Istanbul municipal elections sent a number of messages: First, that Turkey's emerging democracy continues to operate, despite the painful blows it has sustained in recent years. Second, the rotation of power, even at municipal level, imparts new momentum to this democratic experiment and breaks through the arrogance of hegemony, unilateralism, hero-worship, and populism. Third, Turkey's Kurds, including the HDP and the 'Imrali prisoner' cannot be dismissed as mere terrorists and agents of terrorism, as evidenced by the fact that the regime has conducted negotiations and reached understandings with them, and generally deals with them according to its own political needs and electoral purposes.
 
"When the AKP's provisional interests dictate waging a fierce war against them and throwing them into prisons and destroying any past understandings with them, as happened in 2015, and when these same provisional interests dictate opening the prison doors wide to visitors to facilitate spreading their messages to the Turkish public...one must ask what, exactly, is the ruling party playing at?