With the air of invincibility surrounding Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatening to dissolve after his Justice and Development Party’s (AKP’s) apparent loss of both Ankara and Istanbul as well as other major cities in the March 31 local elections, officials announced that they had pushed back the release of the official results of the polls until next week.
The move came after the AKP said it had decided to lodge objections in the neck-and-neck mayoral race for Istanbul.
Head of Turkey’s election board, Sadi Guven, said on April 2 that appeals in elections for mayors and municipal leaders in 30 cities, 51 provincial capitals and 922 districts would be assessed this week. Parties were invited to file objections to board decisions on April 5. It could be around mid-April before the finalised vote tallies are declared.
The unofficial results show wins for the main opposition and secular People’s Republican Party (CHP) in cities including the political capital Ankara and largest Turkish city and business and commercial capital Istanbul. The AKP has never lost an election since Erdogan took power towards 17 years ago and the party, rooted in political Islam, or parties connected to Erdogan have ruled Istanbul and Ankara for more than a quarter of a century.
Mired in economic turmoil
The executive president, battered by a currency crisis and recession that have left many of his usual voters mired in economic turmoil, stumped fiercely in the election campaign, holding half a dozen rallies a day and delivering polarising rhetoric, including claims that various opposition figures had relations with “terrorists”. He essentially embraced the idea that the elections had become a referendum on him and if both Ankara and Istanbul slip from his grasp—even despite the media coverage in Turkey hugely skewed in his favour—he’ll be widely seen as having lost that referendum.
In Ankara, CHP candidate Mansur Yavas is predicted to have secured 50.9% of the vote, leaving the AKP candidate clearly behind on 47.1%. Just as with the Istanbul result, the AKP is registering an appeal.
As the live election results for Istanbul came in on March 31 and turned narrowly in favour of the CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu, the official reporting of the numbers suddenly froze with no explanation.
The AKP candidate for Istanbul, former prime minister Binali Yildirim, acknowledged on April 1 that Imamoglu was around 25,000 votes ahead, but said he believed that his lead was due to 300,000 invalid votes. His party is contesting the results in all 39 of Istanbul’s districts.
Imamoglu, meanwhile, has updated his Twitter profile to call himself mayor of Istanbul.
Definite “slap around the chops”
Even if the results for Turkey’s two most important cities are eventually declared in favour of the AKP, Erdogan will know full well he has been given “a slap around the chops” as analyst Julian Rimmer of Investec put it in a note to investors.
Turkey is in dire need of economic reforms that will give it a long-term path out of its debt-rooted economic morass, according to many economists, but the populist Erdogan will now be under big pressure to play to the gallery with short-termist fiscal and monetary policies that give the country’s population of 81mn a boost. He will worry that his opponents smell blood following the election blows he has taken and will be newly encouraged that his era is unravelling.
When it comes to questioning whether Turkey’s elections were free and fair, observers would do well to remember that according to Freedom House’s latest Freedom of the World survey the country remains “Not Free”. The country slipped from “Partly Free” to “Not Free” in the 2018 edition of the ranking issued by the US-based watchdog and remained in that category in the 2019 edition, issued on February 4.
On the World Justice Project’s (WJP’s) latest Rule of Law Index, Turkey fell eight places to rank 109th of 126 nations, it was announced earlier this year.