Turkey’s Elections: What do they mean for Turkey & Erdogan?

Winning Istanbul and Ankara was how political Islam eventually won Turkey, precisely 25 years ago


On March 31, the Turks went to the ballot box to elect mayors for their cities. Ostensibly the election results marked President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s 15thconsecutive election victory since his (Islamist) Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in November 2002. The AKP won the biggest number of votes (44%) nationwide. Its ultra-nationalist ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) won 7% of the vote. That was good news for Erdogan. In reality, it was good but incomplete news for Turkey’s Islamist strongman.

“Who loses Istanbul [in elections] loses Turkey,” Erdogan roared in a 2018 speech, underlying the importance of big Turkish cities in municipal elections.

He may be right. Winning Istanbul and Ankara was how political Islam eventually won Turkey. Precisely 25 years ago, in March 1994, the municipal elections caused a series of seismic events in the then-secular Turkish political landscape: In an altogether shocking election result the (Islamist) Welfare Party (RP) won Ankara and Istanbul, with Erdogan elected as mayor of Turkey’s biggest city. RP’s leader, Necmettin Erbakan, Erdogan’s mentor became Turkey’s first Islamist prime minister after he won the biggest number of votes in parliamentary elections in 1995, just a year after the party had won two of Turkey’s biggest cities.

Ironically, 25 years later, Turkey’s Islamists lost Ankara and Istanbul in another municipal election, although Erdogan’s AKP, citing vote rigging and other irregularities, challenged the results. The claim is particularly ironic as in all of past elections Erdogan was accused of vote-rigging, but only now, for the first time, are they complaining about irregularities. According to the Supreme Election Board, so far known to be a pro-Erdogan rubber-stamp authority, opposition candidates won both Ankara and Istanbul. Rusen Cakır, a Turkish columnist, said, perhaps prematurely:

“The election today is as historic as the local election in 1994. It’s the announcement of a page that was opened 25 years ago and is now being closed”.

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