A Sigh of Relief for Now

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Everybody knew this was a landmark election, the last exit on the road authoritarian rule. And finally, the people of Turkey, for a multitude of reasons including their disapproval of the annulment of the March 31 Istanbul mayoral election said, “enough is enough” to the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP). With a failing economy, extreme polarization, a chain of foreign and security policy disasters, government’s only hope of winning the rerun was JDP supporters restating their devotion to President Erdoğan and even that didn’t work.

In the annulled election of March 31, opposition candidate Mr. İmamoğlu had won the election by a margin of 13,000 votes, belittled by the JDP. In today’s rerun, he received 700,000 votes more than JDP’s candidate, former prime minister Mr. Yıldırım.

The question now is whether the JDP would admit defeat and allow the elected Mayor Mr. İmamoğlu to serve the city.

Throughout the election process the JDP leadership stressed over and over again the importance Istanbul carries. They said: “Whoever loses Istanbul, loses Turkey.” Indeed, Istanbul is Turkey’s most populous city of sixteen million, its financial center and a hub of vested interests for the JDP.

This is precisely why today is a bright day for Turkish democracy.

The JDP has two choices. It can either,

find excuses to cut the new mayor’s term short or undermine him through its majority in the municipal council and thus confirm that rule of law and respect for the ballot-box are only fond memories for the people of Turkey; or,
honor people’s choice and take the occasion to return to the democratic path and thus start healing Turkey’s dangerous polarization and equally dangerous international isolation.
Whether the Istanbul defeat would trigger a genuine change of heart within the JDP remains to be seen.

Ali Tuygan, Ambassador (Ret’d) and former Undersecretary of the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The article is also published on his blog.