Ekrem’s promise, Ekrem’s destiny

‪Ekrem İmamoğlu‘s impressive victory has triggered huge expectations for his future. He must now demonstrate he is worthy of them‬
Ekrem İmamoğlu, the re-elected Mayor of Istanbul, salutes crowds after his victory was confirmed on Sunday

You campaign in poetry, the old saying goes, but govern in prose, and Turkey’s most effective politicians have always been those who understood that. The only one this century who has possessed both a message to excite voters and a plan to put into action is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Last night was the surest sign yet that there may, at long last, be another. Ekrem İmamoğlu’s triumph in the repeat election for Mayor of Istanbul was widely expected, but still quite astonishing.

Few doubted he would win — widespread public sympathy for the way his first narrow victory was snatched away made sure of that — but not even his most fervent supporters expected such a decisive margin.

In the end, well over three quarters of a million votes separated the CHP candidate from his AK Party rival Binali Yıldırım. Mr İmamoğlu made gains just about everywhere: he even squeaked through on top in hyper-pious Fatih, which no-one will have predicted.

Turnout was high and the number of spoilt ballots comparable to the annulled 31 March election, so the conclusion is beyond doubt: Istanbul voters punished the AK Party and they did it resoundingly.

The CHP candidate’s slogan “Her Şey Çok Güzel Olacak” caught on across Turkey

This was not just an expression of anger at being told to vote again, although that was a significant factor: voters in Turkey have a decent record of disobeying instructions and appreciate an underdog.

“It is an example of the Turkish people’s long-lasting tradition of standing by the disadvantaged,” the opposition Cumhuriyet proclaimed in a front page editorial on Monday.

It was also an resounding endorsement of Mr İmamoğlu himself. Barely anyone had heard of him this time last year; today, he is living proof that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan does not lead the only political tradition in Turkey that can inspire.

So if “inspire and deliver” is the formula for a successful Turkish politician, Mr İmamoğlu has stirred in the first ingredient with aplomb. Little wonder the president’s opponents are more excited than they have been in a generation.

But Turkish politics is littered with examples of politicians who have failed at the second hurdle and that is why, once their euphoria is over, Mr İmamoğlu’s supporters must come to terms with the difficult task ahead. It is one thing to win office, twice, but quite another to govern effectively.

He was the future once: Erdoğan as İstanbul mayor in 1994

Many have argued, prematurely, that it is the beginning of the end for Mr Erdoğan’s Turkey. But for all the political malaise and economic woes, Turkish voters need to be convinced a better alternative is available before ditching the AK Party.

For that, Mr İmamoğlu must show how well he handles the second most powerful job in Turkish politics.

In recent years, Turkey’s most mismanaged big city was not Istanbul — that dubious honour belongs to Ankara, the capital — but that doesn’t mean it is problem-free.

Half a century of unrestrained migration has created a sprawling megapolis that religious conservative mayors have made a decent effort at trying to manage through social welfare programmes in the suburbs and better transport networks. It would take a real cynic to argue Istanbul is not, on balance, a better place than the city Mr Erdoğan narrowly won in 1994.

But that argument could also have been made a decade ago; today, the AK Party in Istanbul is fatigued and complacent, giving more residents than ever cause to complain.

Not all of Istanbul is pretty

There are some truly horrific monstrosities dotting the Bosphorus skyline because planning laws were ignored to allow AK business associates to build skyscrapers. Beyoğlu, an historic district on the European side, is a shadow of its former vibrant self; successive AK policies restricting alcohol and meyhanes have had their part to play in that.

And remember the 2013 anti-government street protests had their origins in plans to flatten the Gezi Park; the whole city still suffocates from a chronic lack of green space.

Add the Turkish economic slowdown and a hostile central government in Ankara to the mix, and it is clear how tough a task Mr İmamoğlu has ahead.

His impressive victory was fuelled by an inclusive campaign; now he must put his words into action.

Related Posts