The most distinct feature of the upcoming June 23 re-election for the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality is its function as a second round of elections. The electorate will revise their choice throughout this process. Campaign strategies and discourses are also being shaped accordingly. There are two mayoral candidates for Istanbul who had a very small difference in their vote shares in the first election: Binali Yıldırım and Ekrem İmamoğlu. The critical question is whether there will be a big difference, as we saw between the elections on June 7, 2015 and Nov. 1, 2015. The conservative electorate is the main group likely to affect the results in the second round. This group will determine whether Yıldırım or İmamoğlu will be the new Istanbul mayor. This segment comprises a number of people who formerly voted for the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) but ended up moving away from the party.
Possible swing votes also include the base of the Felicity Party (SP), which is known for its Islamist-conservative sensitivities, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) proponents and the Kurdish electorate. The critical role played by the conservative electorate was masterfully manipulated by the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Istanbul mayoral candidate in the March 31 election.
The CHP candidate wants to win the June 23 election by manipulating the anger of the segments that are dissident to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He is once again engaging in the demonstration of “radical affection.” In his speeches, he initially triggers anger by saying democracy is betrayed, and when the crowds start booing and jeering, he ostensibly soothes them by saying, “No, please don’t jeer, love them, smile at them.”
However, İmamoğlu’s rhetoric cannot hide the political determination that manifests itself in the statement “we will remove you from history” circulating on social media. He cannot hide the intentions of groups that want to call the AK Party to account. Also, the all-encompassing and affectionate rhetoric of the CHP mayoral candidate does not rely on any genuine self-criticism of the CHP. Therefore, conservative Istanbulites will make a historic decision. Will those resenting the AK Party choose to limit their own living spaces in an attempt to punish the party they have supported?
[Daily Sabah, 23 May 2019]