Friday, July 19, 2024

At Stake within the Istanbul Mayoral Race: Turkey’s Political Future

At Stake within the Istanbul Mayoral Race: Turkey’s Political Future


The competition to run metropolis corridor in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest metropolis and financial dynamo, is in some ways between one man who’s on the poll and one other who is just not.

The primary is the incumbent, Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, a rising star within the political opposition who gained in a shock victory in 2019 and is broadly seen as a possible contender for the presidency.

The second is President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who served as Istanbul’s mayor many years in the past and has needed to return his hometown to the management of his governing Justice and Growth Social gathering since Mr. Imamoglu’s win.

The end result shall be determined by municipal elections that passed off on Sunday, which can in some ways form Turkey’s political future. After the polls closed, Mr. Imamoglu was forward with 50 % of the vote to 41 % for Murat Kurum, the candidate from Mr. Erdogan’s social gathering, with greater than two-thirds of poll packing containers counted, in keeping with the state-run Anadolu information company.

A win for Mr. Erdogan’s social gathering would enable it to reclaim the political and monetary clout of working Turkey’s largest metropolis, additional empowering a frontrunner whom critics accuse of main the nation towards autocracy. A win for the incumbent mayor, nevertheless, might reinvigorate the anti-Erdogan opposition and propel Mr. Imamoglu towards the following presidential election, anticipated in 2028, when he might face off in opposition to Mr. Erdogan.

“This election will decide the character of the political race in Turkey for the years to return,” stated Sinan Ulgen, the director of Edam, an Istanbul-based analysis group.

The vote got here amid a chronic cost-of-living disaster, throughout which the worth of Turkey’s forex has sunk and many individuals have come to really feel poorer. It additionally adopted presidential and parliamentary elections in Might that granted Mr. Erdogan one other time period, dashing the hopes of a coalition of opposition events that had joined forces to attempt to unseat him.

In that election, Mr. Erdogan secured victory regardless of widespread voter anger at inflation that had soared to greater than 80 % and criticism that his authorities had did not swiftly reply to highly effective earthquakes that killed greater than 53,000 folks in southern Turkey in February 2023.

The opposition’s loss battered its morale and its coalition fell aside.

Many opposition voters now see Mr. Imamoglu as uniquely able to profitable in opposition to Mr. Erdogan’s social gathering, a lot in order that they predict he might be Turkey’s subsequent president.

“If Imamoglu wins Istanbul once more, folks will assume that the possibility to beat Erdogan is just not all gone,” stated Seda Demiralp, a professor of political science at Isik College in Istanbul.

On Sunday, voters headed to the polls to elect mayors and different municipal officers throughout Turkey. However a lot of the main target was on Istanbul, given its dimension and political and financial significance.

Residence to some 16 million folks and straddling the Bosporus between Europe and Asia, Istanbul generates a lot of Turkey’s financial output. The metropolitan municipality has about 90,000 workers, many working for municipal firms whose administrators the mayor nominates. All of that provides whoever sits in metropolis corridor important alternatives to reward supporters with municipal jobs and contracts.

The race was additionally private. Mr. Erdogan, 70, grew up in Istanbul, the place his father labored as a ferryboat captain. His political profession leaped ahead when he gained an upset victory to turn out to be the town’s mayor from 1994 to 1998. Many residents hailed him for sensible governance that targeted on quality-of-life points within the historic metropolis: cleansing up polluted streets and waterways and increasing working water and sewer networks.

Whereas he ascended to function prime minister and president, jobs technically primarily based in Ankara, the capital, he typically speaks of his love for Istanbul, whose wealthy historical past, cosmopolitan elite and booming vacationer sector have lengthy made it the jewel of Turkey.

Mr. Erdogan’s social gathering maintained management of the town for a lot of the 25 years after he was elected there.

That’s the reason it was such a blow to Mr. Erdogan’s social gathering when Mr. Imamoglu, 52, defeated its candidate in 2019. Mr. Erdogan’s social gathering alleged electoral irregularities, and Turkey’s election board ordered a rerun.

Mr. Imamoglu gained that, too, by a fair higher margin.

To attempt to take the town again, Mr. Erdogan has thrown his weight behind Murat Kurum, a former city and atmosphere minister in Mr. Erdogan’s authorities and a present lawmaker in his social gathering.

Mr. Kurum, 47, has marketed himself as a hands-on technocrat who will develop companies and remodel Istanbul’s neighborhoods to guard residents from potential earthquakes, a serious concern in a metropolis that seismologists warn might be hit by a giant one quickly, probably damaging a whole lot of hundreds of buildings.

“We think about an Istanbul the place none of our households would worry earthquakes anymore,” he stated at a big marketing campaign rally final Sunday on the runway of an outdated airport. “All of our homes shall be protected.”

He accused Mr. Imamoglu of working the town poorly.

“As we speak, Istanbul is stressed and sad within the fingers of an insufficient administration,” he stated.

He referred to Istanbul as “the town that gave us as a present our chief,” that means Mr. Erdogan, and promised to observe his needs.

“Our chief entrusted you to us,” he stated.

Mr. Erdogan then took the stage, delivering a protracted speech by which he accused Mr. Imamoglu of utilizing the town to hunt increased workplace.

“Istanbul is at a crossroads,” he stated. “On one hand, there are those that solely say ‘me.’ On the opposite, there are those that say ‘solely Istanbul.’”

Plenty of individuals who had come for the rally spoke at size of their love for Mr. Erdogan and the way he has run the nation, and with out mentioning Mr. Kurum.

“We’re right here to assist Erdogan,” stated Erkan Kirici, 49, a laborer in a clothes manufacturing unit. “He develops our nation, and we wish the nation to maneuver ahead.”

At a separate, smaller rally days later, Mr. Imamoglu addressed folks on the street from atop his marketing campaign bus, taking about wastewater disposal, parking and free transit playing cards and milk for low-income households.

He characterised himself as an underdog, noting that not solely Mr. Erdogan but in addition a number of ministers in his authorities had appeared in Istanbul to assist Mr. Kurum.

“They allegedly need to take Istanbul again. From whom? From the nation itself!” he stated. “The subways accomplished by you or the subways accomplished by me — they’re all property of the nation. They assume the positions, the posts they’ve been elected to are their very own property.”

Within the crowd, Suna Hisman, 40, and her sister cheered on the mayor’s quips and waved Turkish flags.

“We love him,” she stated. “We assist him and God keen he shall be our president.”

Turkey’s subsequent nationwide election is predicted on the finish of Mr. Erdogan’s mandate in 2028, however some Turks count on that he’ll search to stay in energy longer. He’s at present within the second of the 2 presidential phrases allowed by the Structure. However a parliamentary name for early elections might enable him to run for one more time period, or he might search to vary the Structure.

Mr. Erdogan’s critics accuse him of eroding Turkey’s democracy by utilizing the federal government to silence dissidents, co-opt the judiciary and cow the information media. Some analysts worry {that a} win for his social gathering in Istanbul might additional embolden Mr. Erdogan, accelerating such efforts.

“If the opposition loses now, there shall be a protracted interval with no elections and with a consolidated central authorities, which I believe is already extremely authoritarian,” stated Ms. Demiralp, the political science professor.

Mr. Erdogan and his supporters reject the concept he’s an aspiring autocrat, pointing to his and his social gathering’s lengthy report of success on the polls.

Gulsin Harman contributed reporting.

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