Why you should care
Because Turkey is still a democracy, and it’s voting for change.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What happened? The party of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lost power in Ankara, the country’s capital, and possibly Istanbul, the country’s largest city. The Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) defeat is an enormous blow to Erdogan, who has monopolized Turkish politics since becoming prime minister in 2003. Mansur Yavas, a member of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), won the mayoral election in Ankara with 51 percent of the vote, while Mehmet Ozhaseki of the AKP came away with 47 percent. The opposition is also ahead in Istanbul’s election, according to the local state-run news agency. The AKP says it will challenge the election results in both cities.
Why does it matter? This is Turkey’s biggest political upset since a failed coup attempt in 2016. Erdogan notoriously has little tolerance for criticism, and the AKP has already said it expects the election results to shift in its favor. While Erdogan still has a strong support base, around 44 percent, the country is struggling with corruption, inefficiency and a failing economy. Sunday’s voter turnout of more than 80 percent indicates that Turkish citizens could be ready for change.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
What will he do now? After the 2016 coup, Erdogan ordered mass arrests and put the blame on foreign plotters, including the U.S. military. A similar response is expected again, though likely not on the same scale. Erdogan may take action in southeast Turkey, where the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic party (HDP) made gains. The president says that the HDP maintains an alliance with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which the HDP denies. While Erdogan says he would begin work to detect his party’s shortcomings, investors fear these losses will make him more defensive and encourage him to seek support via populist measures — a risky move for markets.
Formidable opponents. The CHP’s Istanbul mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu (pictured) campaigned hard. For his party, this election wasn’t about international conflict in Syria or Palestine — it was about who would take the city’s sewage away. This is also the first election since the national currency, the lira, lost 30 percent of its value in August (it dropped another 2 percent Monday), cutting into voters’ savings and income. Many voters have cited economic conditions as a reason for supporting CHP. But critically, the results — and Erdogan’s contrition upon hearing them — indicate that despite moves to consolidate power and silence dissent, the nation’s democratic framework clings to life.
Picking up the pieces. Luckily for Erdogan, his next election isn’t until 2023, so he’ll have time and opportunity to try and reassure a disaffected electorate with effective policy, especially along the lines of stimulating the economy in a sustainable fashion. That wouldn’t mean reprising his easy lending policies, which helped sink the lira. Erdogan pledged Sunday to “carefully enact a strong economic program” while maintaining “free-market rules.” But as one political risk consultant put it, his “aura of invincibility” was dealt a death blow by both the ailing economy and the electoral losses, so he and his party have plenty of work to do.
WHAT TO READ
Turkey’s elections show Erdogan’s power is finally waning — and a new political star is born in Istanbul, by Borzou Daragahi in The Independent
“Despite the Turkish government’s authoritarian drift, the municipal elections also suggested some aspects of Turkish democracy remain intact.”
Erdogan Made the Local Elections All About Himself. It Backfired, by Zvi Bar’el in Haaretz
“Erdogan has already hinted that he means to learn the lessons of these elections, which is a nice way to suggest he’s planning a purge in the party ranks.”
WATCH TO WATCH
Turkey’s local elections seen as referendum on Erdogan
“I believe the only reason we couldn’t get the results we wanted in some cities is that we couldn’t express ourselves enough to our nation, and we failed to win their hearts.”
Watch on France 24’s YouTube:
Erdogan’s party loses capital Ankara in Turkey mayoral race
“Despite the winner being disputed, signs like these have popped up all over the city. They say ‘Thank you, Istanbul’ and they feature Erdogan and his party’s candidate.”
Watch on Daily Mail’s YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Erdogan foes can toast. While electoral gains by secularist candidates may have stung the lira, one economic indicator saw a rise in the ferment: beer. The country’s top brewer, Anadolu Efes Biracilik ve Malt Sanayii AS, saw its stock increase 6.9 percent Sunday — this after shares have fallen 9.2 percent this year. Under the rule of Erdogan’s AKP party, which has its roots in political Islam, some city governments restricted outdoor drinking establishments and imposed high taxes on alcohol. From the time Erdogan came to power in 2003 to January 2018, the price of beer in Turkey increased 618 percent, according to the Turkish Statistics Institute.