June 24, 2019


Turkey's President Suffers Stinging Defeat in Istanbul Election Redo (Carlotta Gall, June 23, 2019, NY Times)

"We will build democracy in the city, we will build justice," Mr. Imamoglu said. "Nobody's lifestyle and how they dress is a concern for us. We came to embrace everyone."

"I thank the president and my opponent who congratulated me," he said. "We will make the nation embrace each other. We will succeed in this despite everything."

The vote "shows democracy is resilient and elections still matter," said Soner Cagaptay, the director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "Imamoglu won with a landslide -- a 10-point lead -- even though Erdogan mobilized all the state resources in this election."

While Mr. Erdogan has acquired sweeping powers under a new presidential system and controls all of the levers of power, a degree of democracy has remained as he has always sought legitimacy through the ballot box and assured citizens of the integrity of the process.

Mr. Imamoglu, 49, was backed by an alliance of opposition parties, united by their rejection of Mr. Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian grip on Turkey.

Besides the blow to Mr. Erdogan's image and prestige, the loss of Istanbul has practical political consequences for him, analysts said. The city is Mr. Erdogan's home and political base, where he began his political career as mayor.

"Losing Istanbul would mean losing a significant revenue source for A.K.P.'s political machinery, ranging from subsidies to the party faithful to construction contracts and funds for pro-government media," Asli Aydintasbas, a senior fellow with the European Council for Foreign Relations, said before the vote.

"It would set off a chain reaction that can herald early elections later this year or in 2020," she said. [...]

Mr. Erdogan grew up in a working-class district on the Golden Horn in Istanbul and embarked on his political career as a popular and energetic mayor of the city in the 1990s.

The city has remained in the hands of his party ever since, and he transformed it with extensive infrastructure projects and grandiose signature constructions, including a vast hilltop mosque, high-rise towers and expanding suburbs.

But Mr. Erdogan's popularity in Istanbul, which derived largely from delivering services to city residents, has waned in recent years as the construction boom has stalled and the economy has slipped into recession, although growth rebounded somewhat earlier this year.

Unemployment and inflation have angered Turkish voters and cost Mr. Erdogan several of the largest cities, including the capital, Ankara, in local elections in March.

"Erdogan lost his magic touch," said Mr. Cagaptay, the analyst. "Erdogan was this politician who came from the other side of the tracks, representing the voice of the common man, the pious, the dispossessed, making this his brand for nearly two decades. That is gone."

Mr. Imamoglu has been compared to a young Mr. Erdogan because he comes from the same Black Sea region known for its fighting spirit, and for his personable and energetic attitude. He won voters' support by offering a clean and all-embracing administration, tapping into a general weariness with the governing party and complaints of corruption and cronyism.

He promised that municipal workers' jobs would be secure and that his administration would be nonpartisan.

"Nothing sticks to Imamoglu," Mr. Cagaptay said. "He became the new Erdogan."

Posted by at June 24, 2019 12:00 AM