During his election campaign appearances, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated one sentiment over and over again: An AKP loss in big cities would cause chaos in Turkey. Now that the local elections are over, there seems to be more to it than that: The political survival of the president could be at stake, because these elections were one of the biggest defeats Erdogan has yet suffered.
The AKP lost many important cities to the opposition. It became apparent on election night that almost all mayoral offices in the coastal cities of Izmir, Aydin, Antalya, Adana and Mersin would go to the social democratic opposition party CHP.
But then came the next blow for Erdogan: After more than 25 years of Islamic-conservative supremacy, a surprising change is now looming in Ankara, too. The republican challenger, Mansur Yavas, will fill the mayor’s chair in the capital for the next five years — a huge blow to the AKP.
As Istanbul goes …
In Istanbul, tensions continue to run high: The entire country waited to see the results of the head-to-head race between CHP and AKP until late at night. But suddenly the election commission stopped issuing further results.
When AKP mayoral candidate and former prime minister Binali Yildirim announced his election victory shortly before midnight, but then disappeared, many Turks became suspicious. The rumor quickly spread that ballot papers for Istanbul had been manipulated in order to bring in a win for the AKP. “We will not sleep for the next 48 hours,” CHP party leader Kilicdaroglu announced in a press conference at night.
Read more: The sultan of 21st-century Turkey
Now there is fear that CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu’s victory in Istanbul was taken from him through electoral fraud. One indicator for this could be that the “High Electoral Commission” is still not publishing any results for Istanbul. This, in turn, did not prevent the CHP chairman from announcing at another press conference this morning that Imamoglu had won the majority of the votes counted.
One thing seems certain: if Istanbul actually goes to the AKP, the worst is to be feared: Protests, street battles, even the storming of the presidential palace ― everything is possible, according to observers on the ground. Independent European election observers also went on record to say that in their opinion, no free elections had taken place.
April Fool’s joke
Despite its successes, CHP should not rejoice too soon: Erdogan will leave no stone unturned in his efforts to sabotage the the new mayors. Even if he appears reasonable now and admits that the government wants to learn from its mistakes, it is uncertain what Erdogan’s next step will be.
The opposition fears that people in the east and southeast of Anatolia in particular, where the pro-Kurdish HDP managed to win numerous municipalities, could see AKP “stewards” forced on them. This step has in the past been an effective way for Erdogan to silence opposition politicians.
Furthermore, Erdogan recently announced that the economic crisis was to end on April 1. At the time, stock market experts suspected it to be an early April Fool’s joke: If Erdogan could solve the country’s economic problems so quickly and on command, why would he wait until after the local elections?
Erdogan’s rule now unclear
Whether Erdogan will remain in the presidential palace until the end of his regular term or not is one of the key questions after this electoral defeat. It now seems quite possible that he will name a successor way before his term comes to an end.
It is also conceivable that a new Islamic-conservative movement will be formed. For some time now it has been assumed, even among moderate politicians, that former Erdogan supporters want to found a new party. If they take this step, it is quite possible that AKP delegates desert Erdogan and join the new party ― quite a common practice among politicians in Turkey.
The decisive result of these local elections is that President Erdogan has not been strengthened ― on the contrary. His reputation has suffered a severe blow within Turkey and, above all, among his own electorate.