Poll loss weakens the grip of Turkey’s strongman

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan © Getty images
Recep Tayyip Erdogan: rebuked

Turkish local elections have produced a “political earthquake” for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and “his Islamist coalition”, says Eli Lake on Bloomberg. The president’s AK party lost both the capital Ankara and Istanbul, a city where Erdogan and allies have been in control since 1994, at the weekend.

Nationally, AK and its allies won 52% of the vote across Turkey’s 81 provinces, says The Economist, compared with 38% for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) bloc. Yet defeats in five of the country’s six biggest cities are still a stinging rebuke for the strongman leader, who started his own political career as mayor of Istanbul.

Erdogan framed the elections as a “referendum on his personal leadership”, says Simon Tisdall for The Guardian. The president has held “almost daily rallies” for the last two months and claimed that his opponents are in league with terrorists. His campaign efforts to whip up religious tensions marked an “all-time low” even by his “unscrupulous standards”. Yet with the economy entering recession at the end of last year, his cynical efforts were not enough to prevent a big swing against AK.

Instead of accepting the results, the president has made an “ominous” demand for recounts, says Lake. AK has already purged the civil service and the military in the wake of a failed coup attempt in 2016, as well as closing down unfriendly media companies. If it starts to annul elections that it doesn’t like then there will be no restraint on Erdogan’s exercise of power.

Another clampdown on the opposition will not be the only consequence of Sunday’s results, says Dasha Afanasieva for Breakingviews. With annual inflation running at nearly 20%, the government has resorted to its usual playbook, intervening to deter lira short-sellers before the elections.

The president recently renewed calls for interest-rate cuts, repeating his nonsensical theory that high interest rates cause inflation. When the pressure is on, Erdogan has a “track record of choosing politically expedient short-term fixes” that scare away investors. “History may be about to repeat itself.”