Istanbul election result is far from a foregone conclusion - analysis

It would not be wise to jump to swift conclusions that the March 31 local elections in Turkey have heralded a new dawn in the country’s politics, political scientist Emre Erdoğan said in an analysis for the German Marshall Fund. 

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) suffered major setbacks in the March 31 elections, as the opposition declared victory in Turkey’s most populous and developed cities such as Istanbul and Ankara.

Turkey’s Supreme Election Council (YSK) last week controversially annulled the Istanbul mayoral election and scheduled a rerun for June 23. 

Erdoğan said four factors will play a decisive role in determining whether opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu, who received the most votes for mayor of Istanbul on March 31, will win again. Many local and foreign analysts say İmamoğlu’s victory may provide a major impetus to those challenging the AKP’s dominance over the country’s politics.

The first determinant of the result of the June 23 election will be how votes in the ruling and opposition alliances consolidate, the political scientist said. Smaller left-wing parties representing some 1.5 percent of the electorate in Istanbul have announced that they will withdraw from the race and back İmamoğlu. The ruling alliance between the AKP and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) may also attract voters and consolidate their base as pro-government opinions become entrenched, Erdoğan.said.  

According to some analysts, many AKP voters decided not to cast votes on March 31 to punish the ruling party. But, the AKP can successfully increase voter turnout if it manages to create a sense of urgency among AKP supporters over the Istanbul defeat, Erdoğan said. 

Turkey’s economic downturn is also a critical factor. Instead of voting for opposition candidates, some AKP supporters might have voted for the MHP on March 31 to show their dissatisfaction, Erdoğan said. 

“Considering the worsening economic conditions of the country, the forthcoming rerun of elections in Istanbul will show if this possible intrablock volatility will be replaced by an interblock one,” he said. 

A fourth determinant might be a possible incident that will lead to a “rally around the flag” moment among Turks, such as a major terrorist attack, a military confrontation with an external enemy, or a political confrontation with another country, Erdoğan said. 

“On the basis of all of the points raised above, it is important not to jump to quick conclusions about the meaning of the outcome of Turkey’s local elections, such as seeing them as the “beginning of the end” of the Erdoğan era,” he said.