Turkey’s president will not be able to exert his hold on power while the economy collapses all around him. It has proved a more lethal threat to his party’s authority than the war in Syria or the threat from Isis
It is usually a sign of trouble when the more minor personalities in a nation’s politics become globally famous. So, for example, is the case with the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, a global star thanks to Brexit. So, too, with his counterpart in Venezuela, acting president Juan Guaido. So too, perhaps, for Ekrem Imamoglu, newly elected mayor of Istanbul. Usually Turkish municipal elections stir relatively little interest outside the country’s borders.
But Mr Imamoglu’s achievement is notable because he has seized power in Turkey’s largest city for the opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) from the ruling Justice Development Party (AKP). It was one of a number of unexpected setbacks for Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan throughout the main cities, including in the capital, Ankara. The Kurdish-led leftist People’s Democratic Party (HDP) also made gains in eastern Turkey. That will annoy the president even more.
It is a hopeful development, much-needed proof that democracy is still functioning in Turkey, after a fashion, despite everything. The results demonstrate that Turkey is not yet a one-party state, and that President Erdogan can be beaten, even with the media slanted against the opposition parties. The defeat in Istanbul is especially poignant, as it was where Mr Erdogan himself launched his political career as mayor in 1994
Less optimistically, the government is challenging many of the results, alleging fraud and demanding recounts. It is the Erdogan way, and it may succeed, such is his grip on power and taste for intimidating anyone who stands in his path. Like all authoritarian rulers, he does not give up power lightly, if at all.
By all accounts the man who has put up the greatest challenge to the president is a fine campaigner. Unlike Mr Erdogan, Mr Imamoglu is a moderate, mild-mannered centrist, a sort of Turkish version of Emmanuel Macron, and his quiet persuasion attracted votes from all sections of, and nationalities in, Turkish society. For a country that has seen much of its secular tradition dismantled by Mr Erdogan, as well as having surfed the erosion of civil and human rights, it is an important moment. Not yet a turning point, perhaps, but a sign that Mr Erdogan is, after all, mortal.