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13 April, 2024
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Erdogan gambles all in bid to retake Istanbul in municipal elections

Turkish President Erdogan's last stand could determine future political landscape

Nikos Konstandaras

Nikos Konstandaras

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is playing all his cards to regain Istanbul in the municipal elections on March 31. On Friday, he attempted to rally his supporters and persuade those who were not convinced to vote for his party's candidate, implying that these would be his "last elections."

"I am working tirelessly," he said. "For me, this is a finale. With the power granted by law, these elections are my last." The "appeal to emotion" might have been stronger if the possibility of Erdogan changing the law, as he has done in the past, did not always loom. The man who has dominated Turkey for two decades is doing everything he can to take the City from the opposition, knowing that the outcome of these elections will determine whether he will continue to control the political game or face a strong opponent from now on. For the current mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, his re-election would pave the way for the presidency in 2028. Not only because he will be the only Turkish politician to have defeated Erdogan repeatedly (three times if we count the double elections forced by the president in 2019), but also because Erdogan does not seem to be grooming a successor. His party's mayoral candidate, former Minister of Environment and Urbanization Murat Kurum bears significant responsibility for the losses caused by last year's earthquakes (having previously granted immunity to constructors who violated laws). He cannot threaten Erdogan, who obviously considers these local elections more important for himself than for his party.

Polls show the two candidates neck and neck at around 40%, with 15%-20% of voters undecided, in a battle considered more between Erdogan and Imamoglu than between the two candidates. Both Erdogan and Imamoglu are more popular than their parties. There is no doubt that Erdogan is the boss of the AKP. Imamoglu chose to run for re-election without the additional obligations of being a party leader. If he wins the elections, he can easily take over the party. If he loses, that would be impossible. Then there is the possibility of him founding a new, center-right party, as he has cultivated good relationships with powerful economic actors who might support such an initiative. Also, Imamoglu seeks the support of Kurdish voters, saying that "nothing can stand between himself and them." The announcement that the pro-Kurdish party HDP will nominate a candidate in the Istanbul elections will cost votes for Imamoglu. If, despite the obstacles, he wins, the political map of Turkey will change.

[This op-ed was translated from its Greek original and edited for clarity and brevity]

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