Just a few hours after the announcement by the Supreme Committee of Elections (YSK) that the results of the administrative elections in Istanbul had been invalidated, the sound of the banging of pots and pans in protest filled up the night in the metropolis on the shores of the Bosphorus.
There was an immediate reaction to this unprecedented move, both on the streets and on social media: thousands marched against the decision to rerun the March 31 vote, won by the CHP opposition party, while the slogan #Herseyçokgüzelolacak (“Everything will be fine”) went viral on Twitter—a line from a Cem Yilmaz comedy, tweeted out by the elected mayor of Istanbul Ekrem Imamoglu a few hours after the YSK’s announcement, which ended up ubiquitous on social media, together with a soccer-fan-style chant of “You will never walk alone,” with which many people proclaimed their support for the little-known Kemalist candidate who had managed to end the AKP’s iron grip of the city a month ago.
However, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former mayor of Istanbul himself and now president with near-absolute powers, was unable to accept the defeat at the polls, due to the symbolic value of the cultural capital that his party has controlled for nearly two decades and the substantial sums of money at stake (an annual budget of $7.5 billion, which translates into lucrative jobs and contracts). Even after the AKP lost the recount, the ruling party proceeded to use underhanded tactics, making use of its dominance of the Supreme Committee to give itself a second chance to defeat the advantage of 14,000 thousand votes which elevated Imamoglu to mayor-elect on March 31.
The move was immediately branded as illegitimate by the opposition, the business world and the European Union, and it might backfire on “the Sultan” after all.
With the new vote set for June 23 and the municipality back in the hands of the AKP for now (on Tuesday, the Twitter account of the city “formalized” the handover by deleting the posts made by Imamoglu, who took office on April 17), the opposition is now united. A month ago, the HDP, the pro-Kurdish left-wing party, had refrained from putting up a candidate in Istanbul, letting its votes go to the Kemalists: according to HDP co-president Temelli, Erdogan’s blatant abuse of power confirms that they made the right choice.
The Turkish Communist Party, the Laborer Movement Party, the Party of the Democratic Left and the independent Aysel Tekerek will do the same, as they all clarified on Tuesday: they will not take part in the elections with their own candidates, but will throw their support behind Imamoglu. On Monday evening, after the announcement by the YSK, Imamoglu spoke to his supporters in a speech that many celebrated as the best yet of his short stint on the public stage: “No one can stop the democracy of this nation. We shall never surrender: I know that when I walk I’ll never walk alone.”
He left the no-holds-barred denunciations to the leadership of the CHP, who did not disappoint: “Judges cannot be bought. They should be ashamed of their decision: you are guilty in the eyes of history,” said CHP president Kilicdaroglu on Tuesday. The party accused Erdogan of having “sacrificed the rule of law, justice and economic stability in the name of his personal ambitions and fears.”
Erdogan’s move was also condemned by the Turkish business association TÜSİAD, equivalent to the Italian Confindustria, which is very worried by the instability that a new election will bring. With the economy that is going through its worst crisis in years, the Turkish lira plummeting (it reached its lowest point in a month on Tuesday), inflation at 20% and unemployment at 15%, canceling the results of a democratic vote will only make it more difficult to attract foreign investment.
As for Erdogan, he took up his usual role as bomb-thrower and tried to pin the blame on others: after confirming that former Prime Minister Yildirim will run again for mayor, he accused TÜSİAD itself of creating chaos, called the new elections “an important step for democracy,” supposedly made against “the organized system of corruption, illegalities and irregularities” (apparently forgetting that his party is the one in power, not the CHP), and replied harshly to condemnations from the international community, accusing them of “politically motivated criticisms.” This time, however, his best-laid plans might go awry.
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