“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss. I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy. I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence,”

Charles Dickens described a city, its inhabitants and the hope in closing chapter of the world-famous historical novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ (1859).

What you are going to read is the incomplete tale of Istanbul.

A dazzling beauty, enchanting history and the source of many tales to tell with its multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multicultural background… It has been the capital of three empires for more than 1500 years: the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, many of whom left their mark on the built heritage of the city. Aside from its strategic advantage with its seven hills and strait control where the East meets the West, its diverse cultures have always been a place of attraction throughout history. Istanbul is Europe; it’s Asia or even none at times. It is the side of a twisted love pursued for centuries. It was conquered, fought over, and reconstructed many times before growing into the cosmopolitan city it is today. It provides utmost beauty and chaos at the same time with its population of over 15 million. The result is that you feel melancholy, sadness, hope, longing and desire in Istanbul, yet none effectively describes it.

Since the mid-twentieth century, when it had less than 1 million inhabitants, its population has risen explosively. Most of this development was driven by inner rural migration.  Istanbul is not the administrative capital of Turkey, but it has been a historic, commercial and cultural center with over 15 million inhabitants; it has therefore always been an indicator of political developments. With its large population, Istanbul generates more than one-third of Turkey’s GDP. In Turkey’s political landscape and psychological state, however, the loss of municipality by AKP in Istanbul will definitely have significant implications.

The Turkish public has experienced a sharp fight in the political arena over the outcomes of Istanbul over the last two and a half months after the March 31 local elections. Since 1994, Istanbul has been controlled by the same group; first by Erdoğan and the Welfare Party, than by the Justice and Development Party (AKP). You might claim winning in Istanbul is also Erdoğan’s prestige since he began his political career there and any loss of AKP will hit President Erdoğan particularly hard and be extremely personal. The metropolis was his political cradle, and his fascinating tale of political survival has always been Istanbul. Erdogan’s going to unleash a vibrant wave that will break his seemingly invincible rule.

The Past

A big percentage of people came to the polls on March 31 to decide on their provincial mayors after a traumatic and tiring election campaign in Turkey, and the Turkish public witnessed a serious political battle over Istanbul’s outcomes. After a furious election night, the result was in favor of opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoğlu with a narrow band, and AKP appealed to YSK (Supreme Election Board) to recount invalid votes in more than a dozen districts and all votes in 3 districts of Istanbul. The YSK announced the official recognition of the win of Imamoglu on April 17 and AKP continued the process by calling for the cancelation of the metropolitan elections. In accordance with YSK’s judgment of May 6, 2019 on the grounds of AKP’s appeal; it was stated that among government authorities the Board’s judges had accepted the allegations of some polling station officials had not been appointed as stated in Turkish election legislation. However, in local elections, Turkish electors had voted for four distinct things (Provincial Mayor, District Mayor, Municipal Assembly, Mukhtar), only the Metropolitan Mayorship of Istanbul was cancelled and concluded for a rerun on the accusations mentioned above. As a consequence, there will be a re-election for Istanbul’s Metropolitan Municipality on June 23.

The Present

While it is quite hard to determine the percentages of mayoral candidates due to a narrow gap, several public opinion surveys have been submitted in the home stretch of redo elections in Istanbul. Binali Yildirim, the People’s Alliance candidate (48.3%), was slightly ahead of his rival Ekrem Imamoglu (47.7%), according to the outcomes of the study undertaken by ORC Research, claiming to be close to AKP, for the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality elections to be renewed on June 23. The Piar Company’s analysis of the election to be held in Istanbul on 23 June remarked that “mass psychology is in Ekrem Imamoğlu’s favor.” Although both parties are at risk from the elections, Piar said both applicants are likely to win. “We see, however, that it is useful to say that mass psychology is in Imamoğlu’s favor. According to the study undertaken by MAK Consultancy Research Company (close to the governing party) with the involvement of 11,000 individuals, on June 23, CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoğlu is 2 points ahead of AKP candidate Binali Yıldırım. It is anticipated that Imamoglu will receive 50.3 percent after the distribution of undecided voters, Binali Yildirim 48.2 percent, and Saadet Party candidate Necdet Gökçınar 0.75 percent, according to study outcomes undertaken between 15 and 20 May. Ihsan Aktaş, General Manager of GENAR, who was working to the AKP, said: “Imamoğlu was behind by 1 or 2 points before the past election. Now he is ahead of him.”

Because of past election results on March 31 and most likely because of poll effects, the AKP has undergone a notable shift in the approach of the campaign. It was claimed that President Erdoğan would have utmost participation in the campaign after the Eid holiday with multiple rallies in nearly all Istanbul districts. However, in order to prevent the consolidation of votes among opposition groups, President Erdoğan was taken out of the scene due to the fresh perspective of the AKP group. It is also suggested that president Erdoğan would be protected from consequences of a possible loss situation. Furthermore, the narrative towards Kurdish voters has altered 180 degrees unlike the March 31 elections. Binali Yıldırım, the candidate for mayor of the AKP, visited Southeast Anatolia and approached the Kurdish votes by greeting the people in Kurdish at a rally in Diyarbakır and using the term ‘ Kurdistan.’ However, it should be noted that on the side of MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) this discourse generated controversy.

On the other side, Ekrem Imamoğlu’s campaign strategy is more or less on the same path as the elections on March 31. CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is not frequently seen in the campaign, but most CHP representatives work for support in Istanbul.

It was concluded after a latest decision that on June 16 Sunday both applicants would appear on a live TV discussion. Before the 2002 general election, the last such TV discussion had taken place between Erdoğan and former CHP leader Deniz Baykal. It is stated that the possibility of a loss in elections should also be regarded within the framework of accepting such a debate by the AKP.

The Future

This re-election clearly indicates that this is no longer about elections, and whatever outcomes it will bring after June 23 rerun, the perception and discourse of Turkish politics is under effect of a wind of change. In all aspects of Turkish politics, we are witnessing a new trend of storytelling that is conciliatory, embracing, tolerant and uniting; as in the examples of EKrem Imamoğlu (CHP Istanbul mayoral candidate), Selahattin Demirtaş (the jailed former leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP) and several local politicians.  However, there are very important items ahead of Turkish politic scene both in domestic and international level- such as S400 issue, economic crisis, East Mediterranean conflict etc. – that can easily shift the discourse back in the old polarized, discriminative, ultra-nationalist, conservative track.

As Dickens says in one of the most famous opening lines in English literature; “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Turkish people will choose the path; whether it will be the best of times with wisdom, belief, light and hope or the other.

Other highlights from past week

  • S400 vs. F35

Turkey has already purchased S-400 defense systems from Russia and hopes to be delivered in July, said President Erdogan at a meeting of AKP representatives on June 12. “Turkey has already bought S-400 defense systems. It is a done deal. I hope these systems will be delivered to our country next month, “said Erdogan, adding that Turkey will hold to account anyone who excludes them from the F-35 program. “We will hold to account Turkey’s exclusion from F-35 program in every platform due to reasons without legitimacy, ” Erdogan said. He mentioned that the program also includes Turkey as a production partner.

When asked about the possibility of a U.S. sanctions regime against its NATO ally, on June 13, Cavusoglu said that Turkey was ready to respond. “If the U.S. takes any adverse action towards us, we will also take reciprocal action,” he said. “Under the governance of our president, we are already working on measures. In the face of U.S. decisions, there is no understanding like’ let’s sit silent and shut up.’ If the US is taking adverse measures towards us, we will also have to take them. We will keep our determination to be an independent and free nation, “said Çavuşoğlu. He also remarked on the letter to Turkey’s defense minister from acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, outlining how Turkey would be ostracized from the F-35 program if it failed to meet its requirements. “We reject the wording of the letter to our minister of defense. No one can give Turkey an ultimatum, “he said.

MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli (Nationalist Movement Party) said on June 15 that the purchase of the RussianS-400 missile defense system by Ankara was a done deal. “Turkey is going to purchase and deployS-400. It’s a deal that’s accomplished and the debate is over. The U.S. should think about the remainder,” Bahçeli said at an Istanbul event.

Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalın also commented on the matter and said, “This letter contradicts the spirit of allied relationships. Simultaneously with the sending of the letter, its content was revealed to the press. This is unacceptable for serious government affairs … we must all be sure that we will respond.”

  • President Erdoğan and Bahçeli met

On June 13, the closed-door meeting at the presidential complex between President Erdogan and leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahceli, lasted about 40 minutes. It is alleged that Istanbul’s new military system and rerun elections have been discussed.

  • New military system

“The allegations that there will be vulnerabilities with the new structure in the Turkish Armed Forces have no basis. Is the Turkish Army— one of the world’s strongest armies— so unwise that it won’t take into consideration a security weakness? “said Erdoğan in his speech at the AKP group session on June 12.”About half of the conscripted soldiers will be discharged with the new military service law and the rest will continue to fulfill their duties. If there are distresses over the conscripted soldiers, it is our responsibility as this country’s leaders and rulers to provide solutions, “he emphasized.

  • Imamoğlu – Yıldırım debate

Istanbul’s two primary mayoral candidates – Ekrem Imamoğlu of CHP and Binali Yıldırım of AKP, preparing for a redo election on June 23, came head-to-head on June 17 in the country’s first live TV discussion in 17 years.