Renewed defeat in Istanbul increases the pressure on Erdogan

The new mayor of Istanbul is Ekrem Imamoglu – and this time for real. The candidate he ran against, Binali Yildirim of the AKP, has already conceded defeat, and President Erdogan has congratulated Imamoglu on his success. For the AKP, and above all for the head of state, the loss of the economic powerhouse to the opposition is a problem. No less a person than Erdogan himself is rumoured to have said: “Whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey.” Imamoglu is undoubtedly still well away from achieving that, but having lost the largest city in the country, the AKP has also lost a major source of money with which to supply favourites and others upon which favour is to be bestowed with lucrative jobs and contracts. In addition to this, the AKP now no longer holds the reins in any of the three largest cities in the country.

Even if many pundits consider Imamoglu’s victory, quite rightly, to be a victory for democracy in Turkey, the opposition should not feel too confident of its winning streak. Firstly, it remains unclear whether the powers that be will in the final instance accept the change at the helm in Istanbul City Hall. Erdogan recently claimed Imamoglu had insulted a provincial governor and threatened him with court. There is at least theoretically the chance that the opposition mayor could be removed from office and replaced by presidential decree – though such a move would entail the risk of triggering a severe domestic political crisis. Secondly, the AKP has a stable majority nationally, and President Erdogan has focused all power on himself and his needs. A mayor of Istanbul who is a member of the opposition will not initially make any difference to that.

This morning, the Turkish currency greeted the election result and its recognition by Erdogan and others positively and at times rose noticeably. However, the Lira should not get too comfortable after the recent election. The sanctions the USA has threatened to impose in response to Turkey purchasing a Russian aircraft defence system already spell further trouble with potentially explosive consequences. In past weeks, President Erdogan has shown no sign of any intention to back away from his plans. On the contrary, Turkey is said to have retaliatory measures at the ready should the USA indeed impose sanctions. Evidently, the head of state did not wish or could not allow himself to show any signs of weakness during the election campaign. Whether this mindset will change after the election defeat is a moot point. Erdogan still has until the end of July to change course and to seek a compromise with Washington. The weekend could offer first indications of the prospects for such a change: A meeting has been scheduled between Erdogan and US President Trump at the G20 summit.

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