Alwaght- The Turkish mayoral elections case was closed on Tuesday after the opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) won the rerun vote over the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate Binali Yildirim, making the party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the biggest loser of the elections as the party fully lost the major cities in the country. Some have called the development a warning to Erdogan and his party marking the start of their decline in the Turkish political landscape after two decades of rule. To get a deep understanding of what this loss means, Alwaght has talked to Hassan Lasjerdi, an Iranian expert of the Turkish affairs.
Mr Lasjerdi blamed the AKP’s loss of Istanbul mayoral election on the party’s past years’ policies regarding the Syrian crisis, the relations with the EU, the economy, and most importantly the home issues like the crackdown on the pro-Fethullah Gulen movement and the purge campaign against the ranks of the military and the opposition. The vote result certainly signals that the citizens no longer agree with Erdogan’s policies. This was especially clear among the Kurds whose leader Abdullah Ocalan is imprisoned for over 20 years by Turkey.
The Iranian expert also talked about the significance of the mayoral elections, saying that they are known as the launching pad of the parties in Turkish politics. Erdogan himself first started power gain process by winning the Istanbul local elections in 1994.
“So, we can say that this defeat can be a serious warning to Erdogan, but this at the same time should not be seen a big tragedy for the ruling party because it has shown the art of passing the crises. I think that very soon, Erdogan and other leaders of the party will hold a meeting or gathering to reject the idea that the loss means the decline of the AKP.”
The Iranian expert also commented on reasons behind Erdogan’s failure to attract votes of the Kurds, who are a big minority in the country. He said that in the previous election, which highlighted the need for the Kurdish votes, Erdogan adopted the policy of policing the Kurdish regions of the country through army confrontation of the fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). This pushed the Kurds to remove their dependence on Erdogan.
Another issue is the Kurds’ parliamentary challenges. The Kurdish representatives at the parliament pushed to realize the rights of the Kurdish majority. But the government declined to side with them in their pro-rights moves. This paved the ground for division between the Kurds and the government.
The considerable issue is Erdogan’s resorting to a show gesture to attract the Kurdish votes ahead of the elections, like writing to Fethullah Gulen, the self-exiled critic of the president and the invitation to Nechirvan Barzani, who has recently been elected president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region. The Kurds in the past witnessed such behavior but they did not see tangible changes to their conditions after giving him their vote. This time, they did not fall in this trap and decided to join forces with Erdogan’s rival CHP.
In fact, the collection of experiences of working with the AKP over the past few years that has not brought major changes to their political life caused the Kurds to shift towards the opposition. This can be significant in the future of Turkish political changes. After all, a track record of their role in the politics over the past years shows that they are a heavyweight in the power equations in the country.
Commenting on the consequences of the AKP loss of Istanbul election, Mr Dastjerdi said that he does not expect major and fundamental shifts from the AKP because the party and Erdogan himself have now reached calm in their home and foreign policy. On the one hand, Erdogan, using the country’s geopolitical position, plays with the East and the West in the pursuit of the national interests. On the other hand, relying on the Turkish historical role in the Muslim world and Muslim Brotherhood ideology, he seeks strategic depth in the Muslim world. “Erdogan at the same time finds useful the cooperation on such regional cases as Syria and Turkey crises with powers like Russian and Iran. Divisions with Saudi Arabia drive him towards collaboration with Iran, Iraq, and Qatar.”
“Still we should wait and see how greatly the Istanbul win can be the source of power gain for the opposition party. If the rival is successful in managing the win for further achievements in the upcoming years, it can rise as a challenger to the government. Still, I think that Erdogan can paddle his own canoe. He will possibly make some gives and takes and negotiations so that he will not have to make major changes in his now-established policies."