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For Turkey’s AKP, second Istanbul loss would be more crushing than first – analyst

Under pressure President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's inner circle, Turkey's election council last month annulled the results of the March 31 mayoral vote

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Under pressure President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s inner circle, Turkey’s election council last month annulled the results of the March 31 mayoral vote in Istanbul and scheduled a rerun for June 23.

“For the ruling Justice and […] (AKP), some electoral outcomes are only fair and valid if the AKP wins,” Sinan Ciddi, assistant professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and director of the Institute of Turkish Studies, wrote for Worldview on Wednesday.

“There has been speculation in Turkey that although Erdoğan expected his party to lose the Istanbul mayoral race and was reluctantly willing to concede, his son-in-law and economy minister, Berat Albayrak, and people close to him pushed Erdoğan to back a do-over, as they perceive the loss of Istanbul, which the AKP has controlled for years, as a bridge too far,” he said.

In addition to losing the capital, Ankara, on March 31 the AKP lost control of provinces accounting for some 80 percent of Turkey’s GDP, according to Ciddi.

By pressing for the Istanbul rerun, Erdoğan has signalled he is willing to pursue all means to hold on to power, even though this pursuit could undermine his legitimacy, said Ciddi. After winning the March 31 vote, then having it taken away, İmamoğlu has the moral high ground and public sympathy.

“İmamoğlu has electoral momentum heading toward Istanbul’s June 23 revote similar to the momentum Erdoğan relied on when he was elected Istanbul’s mayor in 1994 and faced attempts by the secularist establishment, citing quasi-legal reasons, to stop him,” said Ciddi.

Ciddi sees a potential second loss in Istanbul as even more crushing than the first, forcing Erdoğan to either call for early presidential elections to renew his mandate or again cancelling the result and looking even more authoritarian.

What is more, the AKP fears that as Istanbul mayor İmamoğlu would expose its corruption. In his earlier stint, he had reportedly been preparing to publicly display hundreds of luxury cars purchased by the mayor’s office under the AKP, according to Ciddi.

An even bigger fear for Erdoğan is that an İmamoğlu victory would make him a legitimate national challenger.

“Erdoğan was elevated to national politics when he exposed the corruption of his predecessors in Istanbul and seemingly began running the city for the people,” said Ciddi. “In an increasingly crisis-ridden economy, if citizens bear witness to the AKP’s excesses, it could prove to be the catalyst that spurs a massive loss of support for Erdoğan and his party.”