Fury at the loss of the Istanbul mayoral race to Ekrem İmamoğlu, from the opposition CHP (Republican People’s Party) in the local elections on 31 March (reported in my blog Erdoğan faces his moment of truth by challenging the results (11 April 2019) President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has secured a rerun of the election for Istanbul mayor on 23 June. His ruling party refused to accept the result claiming that there were ‘irregularities and corruption’ in the vote. Under extreme pressure Turkey’s ruling electoral body, the higher election board (YSK) agreed, provoking anger in Turkey, especially in Istanbul and there are reports that there are even concerns at the decision by some within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) which could have future political implications. However they did not order a rerun of votes for district administrators, mayors, and municipal councils in the city.
As soon as the decision was announced the value of the Turkish lira fell to its weakest level in eight months, despite interventions to curb its decline. Meanwhile the economy continues to decline, shrinking by 4% in the first quarter of the year according to an estimate by a research centre at Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University. The official figure is scheduled to be released in late May.
Another interesting aspect on the rerun decision was reported by Martin Chulov from Istanbul in The Guardian on 8 May. Headed ‘Opposition claims rerun is to save Erdoğan’s party finances’, he reports that the losses of Izamir and Ankara were bad enough, but the Istanbul loss hit the hardest “posing threats to the AKP’s funding streams and organisational structure, which have long been sustained by the country’s biggest city.” Claims have been made that the previous AKP administrations made sure that large amounts of the budget allocated to the municipality were allocated to organisations tied to the Turkish government.
“For 25 years Istanbul has been a main source of income and financing their political movements” says former MP and CHP member Barns Yarkadas. “According to the donation reports of the municipality this year 847m Turkish lira (£105m) was donated to foundations that are connected to the government. The Archery Foundation and another foundation for religious schools. They are like the back garden of AKP” he exclaimed.
There was also international condemnation of the decision to rerun the election. From the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats said that the decision was “outrageous” and showed how Erdoğan’s Turkey was drifting towards a dictatorship. Whether these words, like those condemning Turkey’s record on freedom of expression will lead to any action by the EU is, of course, another matter!