Who Needs Tyranny With a Democracy Like This?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suffered a significant loss when the mayoralty of Istanbul fell into the hands of the opposition in the recent local elections. But he and his party are not willing to concede without a fight.

JLH, who translated the following article about what happened in Istanbul, includes this introductory note:

Why does this sound so familiar? Perhaps Ilhan Omar can explain
the close philosophical resemblance of Democrat socialism and Turkish Islam.

The translated article from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (which itself was translated from Turkish to German):

Letter From Istanbul: We Simply Do Not Accept That We Lost the Election

By Bülent Mumay
April 11, 2019
Translated from Turkish to German by Sabine Adatepe

Erdogan has not yet overcome the shock of having lost Istanbul, where he began his regime 25 years ago. The head of state who had made the “will of the people” sacred and transfigured the voting urn to a mythical icon, is trying every possible trick to avoid handing over the city, which he lost by a nose. On March 31 he lost the metropolis and its nine million voters by 20,000 votes. Although he had publicly conceded defeat in his balcony speech after midnight, he tried several strange schemes in the dawning hours of April 1. Erdogan was able to remain dominant in several communities, but lost in several metropolitan areas. Why is he fighting above all for Istanbul?

We begin with how Istanbul was lost. Before the March 31 election, there were two prominent names: Erdogan’s candidate for mayor of Istanbul was Binali Yildirim, his comrade since the days of working in local politics, to whom he had left his post of Prime Minister. Yildirim’s opponent was Ekrem Imamoglu, who had administered a smaller district of Istanbul for the CHP (Republican People’s Party [Kemalist]). When his candidacy was announced two months before, only 30% of the voters knew his name. How did it happen that the AKP (Justice and Development Party), which had run the city for 25 years, lost to a less popular challenger?

There are several reasons. Two elections preceding March 31 showed the AKP losing strength in Istanbul. In the referendum of 2017, Erdogan’s constitutional reform had won nationwide approval. But in Istanbul the nays were slightly ahead. In the presidential election of 2018, Erdogan barely made 50%. The economic crisis, which was more pronounced in metropolitan areas, hastened the weakening of the AKP. The integrative approach of the CHP candidates versus Erdogan’s polarizing rhetoric assured that the social democrats also received votes from the center-right. To the question of whether the regime’s repressive policies worked in favor of the opposition: Those responsible for the fact that the opposition was invisible in 95% of the controlled media now think, “Keeping the opposition off television backfired.”

When it was clear that Istanbul would be lost, Erdogan instituted an interesting plan. He intended to prevent the opposition from going into the streets to celebrate its triumph and also to postpone the feeling of defeat among his own voters. The AKP had raised no objections in the local elections, but as the results began to turn negative, it claimed there had been irregularities. While they were in the lead, they said nothing. But when they began to lose, they claimed irregularities in the system of the election commission, which was under their control. The AKP’s demand to recount the invalid votes again was accepted by Erdogan’s hand-picked members of the commission. This yielded a slight lessening of the CHP’s lead, but not enough to endanger Imamoglu’s victory.

Democratic Elections as a Putsch

In their 25 years of local rule and 17 of national rule, the AKP had, with consistent outrage, denied objections by the opposition at elections. And now they themselves raised objections. AKP Interior Minster Süleyman Soylu had even maintained: “We are among the few countries where elections are not doubted.” The palace Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin had proudly declared: “In Turkey, there is no deception at the ballot box.” And former Vice President Bekir Bozdag said: “Anyone who says there was fraud at the ballot box has already lost.” Mehmet Özhaseki, the defeated AKP candidate for Ankara, had reproached the opposition just days before the election: “When they encounter facts, they say ‘Votes were stolen’.” The sharpest turnabout came fro the vice-chair of the AKP, Ali Ihsan Yavuz. Shortly before the election, “We are probably worldwide the country with the greatest election security.” After the loss in the cities, he said: “This election is a monstrous stain on our democracy” and called for AKP supporters to gather before the election commission.

After the palace played the “irregularities” card, its second step was to declare democratic elections a putsch! The AKP-controlled media repeated with the regularity of a prayer wheel: “Whoever was elected will be unelected.” They assessed the election as a “putsch.” And Erdogan’s ultra-nationalist ally, Deviet Bahçeli, even claimed that poll workers were members of a terrorist organization.

Keep Counting Until the Result is Right

And the election commission is organically tied to the palace. In the 2017 referendum, several hundred thousand votes deemed invalid were counted and contributed to the approval desired by Erdogan. As a result of their past “service” to Erdogan the mandate of commission members was extended just before the March 31 election.

AKP representatives are now making numerous objections to this institution. They do not want to accept their defeat and are trying to have the votes recounted until the desired result is achieved, or in case they lose anyway, to annul the vote. No changes resulted from the recount in Ankara, whereupon the AKP commission announced: “Our expectations of receiving more votes were not fulfilled; we renew our objection.”

Plan B in the Hip Pocket

Why are the communities so important for the AKP? Why, in particular, will they not let go of Istanbul? The experience that “Whoever wins Istanbul wins the country” is part of Turkish political tradition. But an even stronger reason is the chain of prosperity the AKP has formed with Istanbul. Istanbul is the heart of the Turkish economy. The billion-euro construction industry is here. It is an open secret that Erdogan intervenes in the smallest building change in the city. The illegal phone taps, leaked a few years ago by “Gülenist”[1] police officers, disclosed Erdogan chewing out an official: “Without my knowledge, you are to sell not one single valuable property!”

It is not difficult to discover where the money generated in Istanbul flows. Local administration in Istanbul — under Erdogan’s control for 25 years — has an annual budget of almost €5 billion. According to official reports, nearly €135 million in donations went to Islamic foundations. And who do you suppose heads up the four foundations that receive the lion’s share? Erdogan’s son Bilal. In fifth place is the foundation headed by Erdogan’s son-in-law, Selçuk Bayraktar. Control of the municipality moving from the AKP to CHP means a halt of payments to these foundations, which support the efforts to transform Turkey’s pluralistic democracy into an Islamist autocracy. And that is not all. The entrepreneurs enriched by Erdogan so that they could create tame media earned millions from the Istanbul municipality. Almost all services such as the metro, infrastructure maintenance, car rental, and sewerage are funneled by bid to the owners of he newspapers Sabah and Yeni Safak. These publications are not calling the election a putsch without reason.

So what Erdogan lost at the ballot box he is attempting to win by other means. If this is not successful, he has a Plan B in his back pocket. He intends to strip opposition mayors in large cities of their responsibilities. Preparations are being made for the palace to have the say over all bids that “exceed a certain sum.” A few days ago, Erdogan consoled his supporters: “Even if they are elected mayors, they cannot pay their personnel. Do not be surprised when the banks confiscate communal income.” Could he make it any clearer that, for 25 years, he has been guiding the communities under his control to the edge of bankruptcy?


1.   The “Gülenist movement is named for Fethullah Gülen, Erdogan’s opponent and bête noir, living for years now in exile in the US. Erdogan has often and recently demanded his extradition.

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