Yesterday, Turkey’s electoral board overturned Istanbul’s municipal election results in which Erdogan’s AK party candidate narrowly lost to the CH party’s Ekrem Imamoglu back on March 31st. Erdogan’s Justice and Democratic Party or AKP stated that there were ‘irregularities and corruption’ in the Istanbul election. A re-run of the March election is due to take place on 23 June. In a defiant reaction to the decision to overturn the vote, Istanbul’s residents stormed the streets demanding justice.
Istanbul’s residents appear to be furious about the election overturn and have swarmed the streets en masse shouting anti-government slogans. Turkish contacts have been reluctant to discuss the latest turn of events, but an American resident of Istanbul who witnessed last nights events commented: ‘People are furious and so they should be. Their voices have been silenced.’
The municipal elections in March were seen as a referendum on President Erdogan’s rule. Whilst the AKP-led alliance won 51% of the vote nationwide, the rising secularist CH party claimed victories in Ankara, Izmir, and Istanbul. The AKP have so far challenged the results in Istanbul and Ankara, and Turkey’s electoral board have granted a re-run in Istanbul. The AKP have been losing ground in recent months and the election results in Turkey’s largest cities are emblematic of Erdogan’s dwindling popularity in urban areas. Erdogan has previously claimed that ‘whoever wins Istanbul wins Turkey’, and his strong-man status has been splintered by recent events.
The decision to request a re-vote was a high-risk strategy for Erdogan and his party. As his support dwindles in urban centres, the decision to challenge the results of the vote may further alienate voters and fan the flames of Imamoglu’s campaign. Imamoglu was formerly a largely unknown CHP candidate and a second election could serve to increase his notoriety. CHP deputy chair Onursal Adiguzel responded to the news by saying that it is ‘illegal to win against the AK Party’. The Washington Post reported that ‘the decision to challenge the results was a high-stakes gamble for Erdogan- forcing a replay of a vote that was largely seen as a referendum on his own leadership.’
Following a devastating currency depreciation and economic recession in recent years, it seems that Turkish voters may be tiring of their long-standing leader and seeking new horizons. Ripples of revolution have surfaced periodically over the past few years and optimistic members of Turkey’s youth-heavy population consider it a matter of time before Erdogan’s 18 year rule ends. The tides may be turning sooner than anticipated, as the previously fractured opposition have united and are presenting a largely-sectarian alternative to the AKP’s long-standing stagnant rule.