Streetwise Professor

April 1, 2024

Erdoğan’s Crown Begins to Slip

Filed under: Politics,Turkey — cpirrong @ 6:14 pm

Tayyip Recep Erdoğan suffered a resounding electoral spanking in yesterday’s mayoral elections in Turkey. (Or Türkiye, as Erdoğan insists you call it.)

Erdoğan’s AKP party suffered a loss of 15 mayor’s posts, with most of those going to its main rival, the CHP. CHP actually outpolled AKP on a national level, which is unprecedented. The most stinging losses were in Istanbul (Erdoğan’s home city) and Ankara. In Istanbul, which Erdoğan desperately wanted to retake, Ekrem İmamoğlu handily retained the mayor’s office.

İmamoğlu’s victory is indeed impressive, and he has received almost all of the attention in the aftermath of the election: he has been anointed as the likely replacement as president for Erdoğan in four years’ time. Yet all of the focus on İmamoğlu obscures another figure, Ankara mayor Mansur Yavaş.

Yavaş’s margin of victory was even more resounding than İmamoğlu’s, with him winning over 60 percent of the vote, as opposed to İmamoğlu’s smidge over 50 percent. Yavaş has a sky-high approval rating–as his electoral landslide demonstrates.

Moreover, although İmamoğlu may be more appealing to westerners and westernized bougie Turks who are the core CHP constituency, a series of electoral failures (13 consecutive losses in parliamentary and presidential elections under the hapless “leadership” of former party boss Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who selfishly insisted on leading the party in the 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections) has demonstrated clearly that CHP cannot secure an electoral majority on its own. Further, demographics are its enemy–religious AKP types outbreed secular (and often atheist) CHP types.

Yavaş is not really CHP, despite the fact that he has run on its ticket in Ankara. His political origins lie in the MHP, a nationalist party founded by one of the leaders of the May 1960 coup, Alparsan Türkeş (“bashbo,” who is still something of a cult figure among Turkish nationalists). He split with MHP because its longtime leader Devlet Bahçeli allied with Erdoğan and the AKP (perhaps because of blackmail).

As a result of this background, Yavaş has the potential to expand the CHP’s appeal to nationalists (who represent a smallish but potentially pivotal segment of the Turkish electorate) in a way that İmamoğlu does not. Yavaş’s main problem is that MHP has historically been anti-Kurdish. But the AKP has been harshly anti-Kurdish as well, and Kurds will likely conclude that CHP will constrain any anti-Kurdish inclinations Yavaş may harbor, making him the lesser of two evils. In sum, Yavaş has a greater potential of forming a coalition that can displace AKP than does İmamoğlu.

Yavaş is also a very tough guy, a lawyer who has frequently faced down Erdoğan in Ankara. Erdoğan fears him more than İmamoğlu.

So don’t be so sure that Turkey’s political future is in the hands of the more telegenic, western-appealing İmamoğlu rather than in those of the more dour, less well-known, and more Turkish qua Turkish Yavaş.

That said, having two highly credible leadership candidates can be both a blessing and a curse. CHP has a long history of infighting and back-biting, and no doubt Erdoğan will try to stoke a rivalry between Yavaş and İmamoğlu. But the very fact that he may have to do so in order to maintain his party’s grip on power is an indication that his position is far weaker than it was when he waltzed to victory a year ago.

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