Turkey descends into ‘plain dictatorship’
President Erdogan defends decision to annul election result amid growing protest and international condemnation
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has welcomed a controversial decision to re-run Istanbul’s mayoral election, amid domestic protests and growing international condemnation.
Thousands of people gathered across Turkey’s most populous city following the country’s election authorities ruling on Monday to annul the Istanbul municipal vote, more than a month after an opposition candidate was elected as the city's mayor.
Ekrem Imamoglu, the CHP's candidate, was officially declared Istanbul's mayor by the city’s election authorities in mid-April after weeks of wrangling over the result. It followed a partial recount which saw him beat his rival by just 13,000 votes in a city of 10 million eligible voters.
Now, the country's Supreme Electoral Board (YSK) announced that the election would be re-run on 23 June, a decision the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) called an act of “plain dictatorship”.
Politico says Imamoglu's victory, combined with heavy loses from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), “had been heralded as the end of an era, with Erdogan's conservative political movement losing control of Istanbul for the first time in a quarter century”.
Since the 1990s, when Erdogan launched his political career there as mayor, the AKP and its predecessor have consistently won in Istanbul's local elections. Furthermore, CNN says Erdogan served as the face of AKP's local election campaigns this year, “and the elections were widely seen as a referendum on his government”.
However, if the opposition win was unexpected, the blow-back from the government has been more intense than even hardened opposition figures anticipated.
Erdogan has repeatedly called for the Istanbul election to be cancelled, alleging widespread “irregularities” in the vote. He has since doubled down on his claim the result had been rigged, telling a parliamentary meeting of his AKP on Tuesday that “thieves” had stolen the “national will” at the ballot box and re-doing the vote was the “best step” for the country.
“The YSK's ruling — made under intense pressure from the government — marks a turning point for Turkey” says Politico. “In past years, the country's elections were considered unfair but nevertheless competitive, an assumption now called into question by the decision to annul a previously validated opposition victory”.
The opposition sees the move by the electoral authorities as bowing to Erdogan’s pressure, but the BBC's correspondent Mark Lowen says the president was “never going to take the loss of Istanbul lying down”.
With 16 million residents, the city is “Turkey’s economic engine and controls a major chunk of public spending” reports The Guardian, and Erdogan has often claimed “whoever wins Istanbul wins Turkey”.
“But it’s a strategy fraught with risk,” writes Lowen. “The Turkish lira - which has lost more than 30% over the past year - has slumped again. An economy in recession can hardly cope with more uncertainty. After all, it was economic woes that lost Istanbul for Erdogan in the first place”.
What's more, Imamoglu is continuing to gain popularity and a re-run could further widen his win and prove hugely embarrassing for Erdogan.
There is also the international implications of such a seemingly blatant attempt to re-cast a major election.
The European Parliament has said the ruling would end the credibility of democratic elections in Turkey, while the continent’s most powerful countries, Germany and France, have both come out strongly against the decision.