Recep Tayyip Erdogan has often in the past, said, “Whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey”. The Justice and Development Party or the AKP, the conservative party Erdogan co-founded in 2001, lost power in Istanbul after a re-run of the city’s mayoral election last week. The opposition candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, had a lead of 7,75,000 votes over Erdogan’s nominee, Binali Yildirim. It is a massive amplification of the margin of 13,000 Imamoglu had achieved in the earlier election in March — a victory that was annulled after AKP contested the results. It also terminates 25 years of AKP rule in Istanbul, Erdogan’s home city.
In its formative years, AKP had tried to veer away from any staunch Islamic identity. At the time of formation, Erdogan reportedly said, “The period of ego-centered politics is over. A team will administer the party. The leader will not overshadow it. Those who come by election will go by election.” There is much irony here, given the cult Erdogan managed to build about himself. And the charges against Erdogan in recent times have included the manner in which the government has given in to orthodoxy at odds with the larger history of Turkey. Imamoglu reportedly said during the victory celebrating over the weekend, “Nobody’s lifestyle and how they dress is a concern for us”. The AKP has also battled corruption charges: Imamoglu and his supporters have attempted to highlight the large funds provided to AKP-affiliated foundations by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. Some of these foundations are reportedly helmed by the relatives of Erdogan and the funds they received allegedly run into millions of dollars.
Losing Istanbul means losing the levers to finances. For Erdogan and AKP, this could mean the beginning of the end of political domination of the city, and perhaps, Turkey.