As the date of the municipal elections approaches, the pre-election campaign and the negotiations between the parties are intensifying. As would be expected, interest has gathered in the metropolitan municipality of Istanbul, as in Ankara the current mayor Mansur Yavas seems to have a safe lead for his re-election and in Izmir the strength of the political apparatus of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) is considered sufficient to ensure the election of the new candidate Cemil Tugay.
In Istanbul, however, the competition is already sharp, given the personal interest of the president of Turkey, but also the symbolic and political ramifications that the re-election of Ekrem Imamoglu would have. Although the choice of the former minister of public works and environment Murat Kurum as the candidate of the governing coalition was considered rather defeatist, as more popular candidates were ignored, the election campaign got off to a strong start.
Given the electoral law that guarantees victory to the candidate who gathers a simple majority, the participation of more candidates – even if they have a relatively small impact – can be crucial for the result because that they can affect the order of ranking of the two leading candidates. Political negotiations and intrigues thrive. The dissolution of the opposition coalition that contested last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections is a major problem for Ekrem Imamoglu.
The participation in the elections of the former associate of Imamoglu Bugra Kavuncu as a candidate of Meral Aksener’s “Good Party” (IYIP) was a first blow for the current mayor. The announcement of the possible candidacy of Basak Demirtas, wife of jailed pro-Kurdish political movement leader Selahattin Demirtas, under the auspices of the pro-Kurdish Equality and People’s Democracy Party (DEM), caused an uproar as many suspected secret negotiations between the ruling coalition and the decision-makers of the pro-Kurdish party.
The decision of Mrs. Demirtas not to be a candidate herself but also the announcement that the DEM will support its own candidate was a Solomonic solution which reduces but does not eliminate the cost of a pro-Kurdish candidacy for Ekrem Imamoglu. On the other side, the possibility of a candidacy by the Islamist “New Welfare Party” of Fatih Erbakan, son of the historical leader of Turkish political Islam Necmettin Erbakan, is of interest. Such a candidacy would greatly hinder the rallying of the pro-government coalition and also the possibility of victory for the pro-government candidate Murat Kurum. For this reason, behind-the-scenes negotiations have intensified, in which the country’s president himself is said to be participating.
The elections for the metropolitan municipality of Istanbul will be a turning point for Turkey. It will also be tested whether the mayor Ekrem Imamoglu really has the supra-party popularity that many experts recognize and makes him a national political figure comparable to that of the country’s president. His ability to retain a significant portion of right-wing and far-right IYIP voters despite Aksener’s defection to the pro-government coalition and Kurdish voters despite DEM’s candidacy will determine the outcome of the election.
The possible re-election of Imamoglu will make him the natural leader of Turkey’s opposition and will limit the degradation of the competitive nature of the Turkish political system. The possible victory of Kurum will mean the completion of the political hegemony of President Erdogan and will lead to a deep crisis for the official opposition.
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