A last-ditch effort by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s governing party to annul the election for mayor of Istanbul has opened wide divisions in the party’s rank and file and with its nationalist allies, as even the president has come under unusual attack.
These tensions, including an ugly physical assault on an opposition lawmaker, have underscored just how severe a blow the loss of Istanbul, still to be officially confirmed, has inflicted on Mr. Erdogan’s once seemingly solid power structure.
For the first time in 25 years, since Mr. Erdogan first won power as mayor of Istanbul in 1994, his Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., has lost control of his home city and power base, along with four other major cities, including the capital, Ankara.
The party has mounted an extraordinary appeal to have the Istanbul election canceled and a new election held. Yet it remains deeply divided about the best way forward.
Supporters and opponents of the party are warning that an annulment with a new election has steep risks in itself and may in fact only compound the political fallout for the president.
The three-week-long dispute over the election results has brought no reprieve to Turkey’s economic woes, and politicians and analysts on all sides predict that a do-over of the election would risk social chaos.
A second election would raise the prospect of further repression and legal wrangles, and a prolonged struggle could spark another crash of confidence in Turkey’s economy.
The Turkish lira, which lost 30 percent of its value last year, dipped again toward record lows this week, recording 5.9 to the dollar on Thursday. Unemployment has risen to nearly 14 percent, and the government depleted its reserves propping up the currency in the run up to the March 31 election.
Mr. Erdogan has already come under attack from within his own party, revealing the animosities beneath his increasingly authoritarian presidential rule.
Ahmet Davutoglu, a former foreign minister, in a rare public statement posted on his Facebook page, criticized the government’s handling of the economy, as well as the new presidential system that has given Mr. Erdogan enhanced powers.
But he saved his most scathing criticism for the president’s inner circle, which, he said, “sees itself above the committees of our party and aims to rule the party like a parallel structure.”
“Our country cannot be left to the concerns for the future of a narrow and self-seeking group who are slaves to their ambitions,” he wrote.
That group is believed to have pushed hardest to redo the election in Istanbul, which has been a source of power, prestige and great wealth for the president, his family and the ruling clique.
The group is led by Mr. Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, 41, who was promoted to minister of finance and treasury last year. The interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, 49, has also emerged as an aggressive player.
Mr. Davutoglu, a charismatic ideologue who was sidelined after Mr. Erdogan dropped him from his cabinet in 2016, also criticized Mr. Erdogan’s alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party.
The party provided a critical alliance for Mr. Erdogan in last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections and in last month’s local elections.
But since the Istanbul election, its leader, Devlet Bahceli, has stoked emotions further with a speech criticizing the opposition leader and urging the High Election Council to order a rerun as a matter of national survival.
The tensions peaked last weekend when a mob assaulted Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party, at a funeral for Turkish soldiers.
Mr. Kilicdaroglu was punched and pushed by a crowd after the prayer ceremony in an attack that has shocked many Turks because of the ugly nationalism on display.
The opposition leader, a member of the Allevi minority, was in danger of being lynched, according to his party, corralled in a house as members of the crowd called to burn it down. He had to be evacuated by security forces in an armored vehicle.
The man who punched Mr. Kilicdaroglu was found to be a member of Mr. Erdogan’s party, which has promised disciplinary action.
Mr. Kilicdaroglu has alleged the attack was planned beforehand and said the aim was to make his party back out of the alliance that brought his party apparent success in the election in Istanbul.
That alliance included a tacit understanding with the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, which Mr. Erdogan has often accused of being linked to a designated terrorist group.
“The attack against me is an attack against our unity,” Mr. Kilicdaroglu said at a rally after the attack. “They think, ‘If we attack, will he give up?’ Whatever you do, I will not give up.”
An investigation by his party has found that batons were handed out by one man from a rooftop, that piles of stones and barrels had been placed to block his exit from the funeral, and that the police had evacuated him as they learned of the mob calling in reinforcements from other villages, the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet reported Thursday.
Ali Sirmen, a columnist with the same newspaper, blamed Mr. Erdogan for stoking the tension by relentlessly accusing the opposition of siding with terrorists during the election campaign.
“Those who sow the wind have begun to reap the whirlwind,” Mr. Sirmen wrote. “Instead of debating who was at fault, now is the time to talk about what needs to be done to prevent a civil war.”
Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Soylu, the interior minister, have both said the attack stemmed from the high emotions running at the funeral.
But analysts close to the government said the attack reflected a battle within the ruling alliance, between those who want to maintain tension in order to force a rerun of the election, and senior heads in the party who wanted to calm things down.
Naci Bostancı, leader of the A.K.P. parliamentary group, deplored the attack on Mr. Kilidaroglu as “never acceptable” in a speech at the parliament’s opening session on April 23. “Turkey needs to overcome every kind of tension with the line of reason and responsibility,” he said.
Those who were stoking the tension were trying to sabotage an idea floated by Mr. Erdogan for a “Turkey alliance” to unite Turks after a bruising election campaign, wrote Muharrem Sarikaya, a columnist for the news channel Haberturk on Thursday.
“A group inside the AK Party is uncomfortable that the masses have been filled with negative energy,” he wrote. “They are not content that the tension is being carried to such a high level.”
Originally published at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/25/world/europe/turkey-erdogan-istanbul-election.html