Ekrem Imamoglu‘s victory at the Istanbul mayoralty will force President Erdogan to be more open to not isolate himself, says Dorothée Schmid, a specialist in Turkish affairs.
Sunday’s overwhelming opposition victory over Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s candidate in the Istanbul municipal elections is a warning to the Turkish president, says Dorothée Schmid, a researcher at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) Turkey.
How to explain Erdogan’s broad setback in Istanbul’s municipal elections on Sunday?
DOROTHÉE SCHMID. There are many factors. Turkey’s foreign policy problems, that is, its extremely stormy relationship with the United States or its military difficulties in Syria, weigh very heavily. Turkey must also get out of the economic crisis in which it is plunged. All this gives the impression of a power out of breath with too many records difficult to manage at once. For the first time, we feel that the colossus is much more fragile than two or three months ago.
Has the lack of democracy in Turkey been able to play in the recent defeat of the AKP, Erdogan’s party?
Perhaps, but there has been a climate of violence in Turkey for a long time now with the anti-Erdogan protests of 2013. It has been reinforced with the failed coup attempt of 2016.
What will this municipal election actually change?
This is the first time that opposition parties to Erdogan have come together against the AKP, overcoming their divisions. There are three groups in this alliance: the CHP, ie the Kemalist party of Imamoglu, some dissidents of the nationalist party and the support of some of the Kurds. But, the Kemalist party must now reform and hold the road after its victory in the municipal.
What strategy could Erdogan apply to this new competitor Imamoglu?
Erdogan began his political career in Istanbul, he is the people of Istanbul. This defeat of the AKP was therefore a symbolic shock. It seems he is out of breath, worn out. He may have to drop some ballast. But the Turkish president is also capable of reversing an impressive situation. The big challenge for Erdogan is not to isolate yourself. He must show a certain openness, practice power with more collegiality within his party to avoid dissent.
Erdogan and Imamoglu, it’s finally a clash between two very different personalities?
Yes, Erdogan plays on the cleavage and spends his time insulting his opponent. For him, the new mayor is a kind of bobo who did not understand the needs of the real people of Istanbul. He even calls him a terrorist. Conversely, Imamoglu is someone rather atypical and dynamic. He is young, uses social networks a lot and speaks to minorities. Voters are happy to have a different head than Erdogan: Imamoglu embodies a new generation of more modern politicians.
Can he be a serious contender for Erdogan in 2023?
Since Imamoglu came out of the woods, everyone has this in mind and considers that he has a very good profile to be a candidate. I imagine Erdogan is thinking about it, in his worst nightmares! But it can happen so much in the space of three years … Turkey is a country that moves fast.