Local election losses have left Erdoğan lacking options - scholar

Last Sunday’s momentous opposition victory in the Istanbul mayoral election rerun has revealed weaknesses in the rule of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who finds himself in a precarious position with few good options, St. Lawrence University scholar Howard Eissenstat wrote for the Washington Post.

The decision to hold the second vote, based on a controversial ruling by Turkey’s Supreme Election Council that alleged serious fraud had taken place in the March 31 vote, proved to be a serious mistake, as Erdoğan had no plan to secure victory.

Moreover, his style of authoritarian rule was unable to engage in flagrant manipulation on the local election scale, and unable to compete with an opposition that had managed to unite disparate groups for the municipal vote, Eissenstat said.

The impact of Turkey’s ongoing economic problems played a large role in the vote – the country went through a technical recession and currency crisis last year and is still under serious pressure – as did repression of the Kurdish political movement, which drove Kurdish voters to the opposition candidate, he said.

While the opposition victory surprised pessimists, it was helped along by the glaring lack of competent and rational advisers in a political system that has become increasingly personalised under Erdoğan and populated by sycophants an family members, Eissenstat said.

Nevertheless, the way back to a more open system governed by technocrats would be perilous for Erdoğan, whose rule is unlikely to last under more democratic conditions and who would likely end up in jail if he is voted out, the scholar said.

Yet the other option – increased repression – also appears untenable, since Turkey’s population have shown in this year’s elections showed “the Turkish public is unlikely to accept open dictatorship without a fight”, he added.