Turkey’s ruling party changes strategy for Istanbul election do-over

Turkey’s ruling party changes strategy for Istanbul election do-over

ANKARA (Rahnuma):  The two blocs of Turkish political landscape are getting ready for their strategies to appeal voters of Istanbul, the biggest city of the country, for the re-run of mayoral election on June 23.

Turkey’s top electoral body ruled on May 6 to scrap results of March 31 local elections in Istanbul after complaints of irregularities by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and decided for a fresh mayoral contest in June.

With five weeks to go, the AKP has shaped its strategy to convince its traditional voters who did not go to polls or cast invalid votes in the previous elections on March 31.

The AKP is preparing for elections with a new strategy, said Abdulkadir Selvi, daily Hurriyet political columnist.

First of all, the language of propaganda changes. “Instead of a polarizing narrative and a discourse based on the country’s survival, the party’s language will be based on the unity of all,” Selvi said.

The AKP promoted a campaign, blaming “foreign threats” for its economic problems and security threats for March 31 local elections.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the crowds in his campaign that his coalition is patriotic and March 31 local elections were a matter of perpetuity of the country because the “enemies” of Turkey were waiting for the weakness in the AKP’s ruling.

But the ruling party, allied with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), has lost important big cities on the night of March 31.

The opposition, the “Nation Alliance,” consists of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the IYI (Good )Party. Its candidate for Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, was also supported by pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

Imamoglu narrowly won the elections in Istanbul by a margin of less than 14,000 votes.

Although an AKP-led “People’s Alliance” won 51 percent of the vote nationwide, the CHP claimed victory in the capital Ankara, Izmir, and Istanbul, the commercial hub of Turkey where the AKP chairman and Erdogan had once been the mayor.

Istanbul is particularly crucial for Erdogan as it accounts for a third of Turkey’s economy and is the true economic powerhouse of Turkey, controlling a major chunk of public spending.

AKP lost one of every four voters in March 31 elections, said pollster Bekir Agirdir from KONDA opinion research company.

The pollster noted that of every 100 voters, 16.1 did not go to the ballot box and three cast invalid votes. The ones who did not go to the ballot boxes are mainly electorates of the AKP and MHP.

The AKP voters did not support the opposition block but showed their response by not going to the polls, he said, adding that the results revealed that the electorate of the ruling bloc was uncomfortable and questioning its parties.

Some 1.7 million voters did not go to the ballot boxes for March 31 local elections in Istanbul.

The AKP’s research revealed that 70 percent of these voters were its supporters and the party decided to visit them one by one as part of the new strategy, Selvi said.

Kurdish voters of Istanbul are also decisive in the polls, but the AKP, allied with the nationalist party, was far away from embracing these residents till March 31 elections.

The campaign of the ruling party will promote “Turkey Alliance” and the language used for the Kurds will be positive to re-establish the bridges with conservative Kurdish voters, the columnist said.

Meanwhile, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan was granted access to his lawyers after eight years and conveyed a statement to the public just hours before the Istanbul elections were annulled.

On the other hand, the opposition alliance will highlight its candidate Imamoglu, rather than the party and will use an inclusive language, Selvi said.

The CHP will stress “unjust treatment” of the election board in canceling the March 31 elections which Imamoglu won, the columnist added.

The government is facing many political and economic challenges, particularly the 2019 local elections are Erdogan’s first electoral test since last year’s sharp currency crisis tipped the economy into recession.

A nearly 20-percent inflation and a 15-percent unemployment rate drove a large number of voters to abandon the AKP in the initial vote.

Erdogan will without doubt make every effort to secure his party’s victory in this hard battle, as he once said that “who loses Istanbul, loses Turkey.”

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