How Erdogan intends to sideline his rivals

According to a recent Fitch analysis incumbent president Erdogan has a 55% chance of being elected, but he loses the Grand Assembly to the main-stream opposition alliance, dubbed the Table of Six, because  it consists of six parties.  In a conversation between notable political analyst Rusen Cakir and former AKP MP and political consultant Mr Suat Kiniklioglu, the latter opines that the West has reconciled to live with Erdogan for another term. Indeed, Erdogan’s invincibility redux (because he is  certain to lose the parliamentary race) has become a fate accompli, even among the most ardent dissidents. Thijs is funny, because according to 15 presidential polls conducted between August and mid-November, he loses 11 to CHP’s presumptive candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu. In the Grand assembly race, his AKP-MHP coalition garners 40%, vs 45% for Table of Six.       The rest goes to tiny parties, most of which opposed to Erdogan and a new alliance congealing around pro-Kurdish Rights Party, HDP.


In short, in drastic contrast to Western opinion, numbers reveal Erdogan is set to lose. No worries though, Erdogan has many autocrat friends in the region, like Arab monarchies and Putin who are writing checks for him to bankroll his election campaign, while he is deploying dirty tricks to sideline his opponents.


David Lepeska, writing for National News, explains how Erdogan intends to get rid of his most feared rival, Istanbul (CHP) mayor Ekrem Imamoglu and disenfranchise the entire Kurdish vote:


Mr Imamoglu’s political star – for years the brightest in the opposition firmament – has faded recently. Around summer , reports emerged that the longtime leader of Mr Imamoglu’s main opposition CHP, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, would run as the party’s candidate in next year’s presidential election, despite a yearning by many in the opposition alliance for Imamoglu or Ankara’s (CHP)  hard-working mayor Mr Mansur Yavas.

“Mr Imamoglu and his fellow CHP Mayor, Mansur Yavas of Ankara, have consistently outperformed their boss, as well as Mr Erdogan, in head-to-head polls”, asserts Mr Lepeska”, which is still true.


An election based on security issues, as in 2015, favours the governing coalition


In fact, none of the likely opposition candidates has polled as poorly against Mr Erdogan as Mr Kilicdaroglu. The CHP and its six-party opposition alliance have yet to choose their candidate, and just last week a top opposition MP expressed concerns that Mr Kilicdaroglu would be unable to win. So there may still be hope for Mr Imamoglu.


Yet, he happens to be on trial at the moment, facing a potential political ban and up to four years in prison for insulting Turkey’s top election board. The verdict could come any day, and many expect the popular Istanbul Mayor to be found guilty despite the questionable charges.


As if all this weren’t enough, two days after his trial began, Istanbul’s main pedestrian thoroughfare was struck with a bomb blast that killed six people and injured dozens, recalling for many the politically driven violence that shook the country in 2015-16.


Istanbul and Turkey suffered half a dozen major attacks in this period, as well as intense fighting between the government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has led a decades-long insurgency in the country’s south-east and is labelled a terror group by the US, EU and Turkey.


In June 2015, weeks before the violence began, the AKP lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since coming to power. But the vote resulted in a hung parliament, so Mr Erdogan called for a redo. Five months later, with the militant PKK under military assault and nationalist sentiment running high, the AKP regained its majority.


Within hours of the latest bombing, Turkish authorities arrested a Syrian Arab woman as the main suspect and blamed the attack on the PKK and its Syrian ally, the YPG. Both have denied involvement, and observers have wondered why a trained terrorist would be caught on camera planting a bomb then return to her home rather than flee, and why an Arab woman would commit such a brazen and deadly crime for a Kurdish group.


Later, authorities made further arrests, including a few Moldovans, which would seem to point in another direction. Even so, last Satruday, Ankara launched fresh strikes on northern Syria, killing at least two YPG fighters. On Monday, the YPG appeared to retaliate, as Turkish outlets reported three civilians killed in strikes in the border province of Gaziantep.


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Many also expect the government to move against the Kurdish-led HDP, with arrests or even a blanket ban, and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu has vowed to reveal links between terror groups and the Imamoglu-run Istanbul municipality this week. However cynical all this might seem, it’s also politically astute. Amid rampant inflation and growing poverty, an election based on security issues, as in 2015, favours the governing coalition a great deal more than one centred on the economy.


The AKP will gain a further boost from its newly enhanced ability to control the flow of information. Immediately after the bombing, authorities blocked top social media platforms Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook for more than 10 hours. Along with a recently passed censorship law that makes just about any troubling statement a potentially jailable offence, the space for public discussion and debate has shrunk.


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Add it all up and the outlook for the Istanbul Mayor, and perhaps the opposition more broadly, is dimmer than it’s been since his June 2019 electoral victory. Of course, this would all turn around in an instant if Mr Imamoglu is acquitted then named the opposition candidate.


For now that seems unlikely. A year ago, I detailed the many parallels between Mr Erdogan and Mr Imamoglu. We may soon add one more: banned from politics while serving as Istanbul Mayor and sent to prison. That would surely mark Mr Imamoglu’s political ship being lost at sea.


But in Mr Erdogan’s case, the conviction and four-month jail stint gave him the heroic air of a martyr, and three years after his release his new party came to power. Could lightning strike in prison again? In Turkish politics, anything is possible.

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Published By: Atilla Yeşilada

GlobalSource Partners’ Turkey Country Analyst Atilla Yesilada is the country’s leading political analyst and commentator. He is known throughout the finance and political science world for his thorough and outspoken coverage of Turkey’s political and financial developments. In addition to his extensive writing schedule, he is often called upon to provide his political expertise on major radio and television channels. Based in Istanbul, Atilla is co-founder of the information platform Istanbul Analytics and is one of GlobalSource’s local partners in Turkey. In addition to his consulting work and speaking engagements throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East, he writes regular columns for Turkey’s leading financial websites VATAN and and has contributed to the financial daily Referans and the liberal daily Radikal.