Istanbul mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu speaks to reporters in the city last week after a voter recount was approved. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

‘Erdogan is Not Invincible’

A strong urban showing in local elections by Turkey’s main opposition party could indicate a future trend, especially if its mayors give voters what they want

As the main opposition candidate for Istanbul mayor implored the country’s ruling party to accept defeat amid further recount requests on Sunday, one of his supporters, a local resident identifying himself only as Aytac, said likeminded friends who stayed away from the polls are suddenly looking ahead to the next vote.

“They were losing their hope, but I think after this one… absolutely, they’re going to go vote in the next election,” Aytac, 25, told The Media Line.

A win by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in Istanbul, as was already declared in the capital Ankara, would end 20-years of control by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“I didn’t think we had a chance, that we could win, because it was like 20 years, so it’s a big thing for Istanbul,” Aytac said. “I’m so hopeful about the future.”

Residents of Turkey’s largest city and the center of the country’s economy still don’t know who their next mayor will be a week after they went to the polls along with citizens across the country who voted in local elections. Posters of both the CHP’s candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, and the AKP’s candidate, former prime minister Binali Yildirim, have popped up across the city.

Imamoglu, who won the election by less than a percentage point, according to initial results, has insisted he will be mayor after the recounts. There are also partial recounts in Ankara, where the CHP candidate won by 4 percent.

AKP spokesperson Omer Celik told journalists on Saturday that his party would accept the outcome of the recounts.

“Whoever is declared winner by High Election Board, we will accept that,” Celik said.

The opposition was long criticized for being divided and disorganized, leading even supporters to be cynical about any possibility for success.

Unal Cevikoz, a member of parliament representing a district in Istanbul and vice chairman of foreign affairs for the CHP, says there is now increased interest in getting involved with the party since the elections last week, citing a rise in applications to take part in the recount.

“Many voters now see that Erdogan is not invincible and that the anti-Erdogan and anti-AKP voting trend will gain momentum,” he told the Media Line.

Cevikoz stated that the party had changed its strategy in a number of crucial ways, for example by nominating candidates with experience in running local districts to show the electorate that they would be capable of leading a municipal government.

Another change was in communications strategy.

“Our candidates were on the street, down to earth and very close to the people, talking to them, asking their opinion and sharing their concerns,” Cevikoz said, adding that the party stuck to practical policy issues such as expensive construction projects.

Can Selcuki, a pollster and general manager of Istanbul Economics Research, a public-affairs consulting agency, cautioned that victories by the CHP would not automatically translate into future success.

“They can do a really good job over the next five years and turn these wins into something much bigger, or they can really mess up in municipal governance, and this will all go to [waste],” Selcuki told The Media Line.

If the opposition gains control of both Ankara and Istanbul, it is believed that the vast presidential powers Erdogan enjoys will not be diminished, as his party, along with its ultranationalist MHP coalition partner, still won over 51% of the municipal votes cast in the country. Yet a strong urban win for the CHP could have practical benefits in the eyes of those opposed to the president’s pro-Islamist positions.

Aytac, a member of the LGBT community, said he and others would now have an increased chance of having their voices heard, such as with gay pride parades.

“The last couple of years, they didn’t give permission to [march],” he said. “I think we’re going to [march]…. I don’t know whether it’s this year or next year, but we will.”

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