What does AKP’s defeat in Istanbul election mean for Turkey’s future

Supporters attend an Ekrem Imamoglu rally in the Beylikduzu district of Istanbul. Many experts view the Istanbul mayoral victory of the CHP’s Imamoglu as a stinging blow to Erdogan and his leadership. (Reuters)
Updated 27 June 2019

What does AKP’s defeat in Istanbul election mean for Turkey’s future

  • Ekrem Imamoglu’s defeat of rival Binali Yildirim, by about 800,000 votes, ended 25 years of AKP domination in Istanbul
  • When Erdogan forced the annulment of the previous result, it helped transform Imamoglu into the new face of politics

ANKARA: After Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost control of Istanbul in the rerun of the city’s mayoral election this week, there are two big questions to be answered: Where did President Recep Tayyip Erdogan go wrong with his strategy, and does the defeat represent the start of a permanent shift in the balance of power in the country?
Many experts view the June 23 victory by Ekrem Imamoglu, of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), as a stinging blow to Erdogan and his leadership. Some suggest it could even mark “the beginning of the end” for the president; his own rise to power began when he was elected the city’s mayor in 1994 and he has repeatedly said that “whoever wins Istanbul wins Turkey.”
Imamoglu’s defeat of rival Binali Yildirim, by about 800,000 votes, ended 25 years of AKP domination in the city.
“No individual or power can stand in the way of the will of the people,” Imamoglu told Christiane Amanpour during an interview broadcast by CNN on Wednesday night.
The underlying causes of Erdogan’s change of fortunes are now under scrutiny. AKP politician Mustafa Yeneroglu posted a message on Twitter soon after the election result was announced in which he said his party lost because “it has lost its moral superiority.”
While it is still too early to predict whether the AKP’s defeat, in a city that is home to 16 million people, represents a political sea change, rumors are growing in Ankara of plans by two of Erdogan’s former ministers, Ahmet Davutoglu and Ali Babacan, to form a new splinter party. It is reportedly backed by former President Abdullah Gul and could be launched by early autumn.
“The primary cause of the Erdogan’s defeat is that the Turkish economy is collapsing,” said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Program at the Washington Institute.
With inflation running at an annual rate of about 19 percent and the official unemployment rate exceeding 14 percent, it was inevitable that there would at some point be a price to pay for the economic deterioration.
Erdogan has won numerous elections since 2002 on the basis of strong economic growth, Cagaptay said, but his ability to build support has suffered as a result of economic mismanagement. Many of the people who previously were attracted to his populist rhetoric are simply not buying it anymore, he added.
“Erdogan is a populist leader who has consistently demonized, brutalized and cracked down on demographics who are unlikely to vote for him,” Cagaptay said.
Experts also point to a “fatigue” and internal disputes within the party as contributing factors.
During his early political career, Erdogan represented to his supporters the idea of “change” and a forward-looking approach. At that time, he was appealing to those who felt dispossessed by the old political order.
“But this is no longer the case,” Cagaptay said. “Erdogan has ruled Turkey longer than any other democratically elected leader and now it is really hard for him to make an argument that he represents change, because he owns Turkey’s problems, from a collapsing economy to nepotism and allegations of corruption.”

The primary cause of the Erdogan’s defeat is that the Turkish economy is collapsing. 

Soner Cagaptay, Director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy

The AKP lost some of its previously loyal base in Istanbul’s religious districts, such as Eyup and Fatih, which were known as AKP fortresses. The voters abandoned the party in favor of the opposition candidate Imamoglu, who is known for his secular but conservative and religiously sensitive credentials.
He won the first mayoral election, on March 31, by the much slimmer majority of 13,000 votes. According to Cagaptay, when Erdogan forced the annulment of that result — accusing the opposition candidate of stealing votes — it helped to transform Imamoglu into the new face of politics, the role that Erdogan himself once embodied.
“Because Erdogan now represents the establishment, it is Imamoglu who represents change and stands for those who feel marginalized and dispossessed by the system,” he added.
In a deeply polarized country, Imamoglu appealed to a number of segments of society from a wide range of political and social backgrounds — including secularists, the devout, nationalists and Kurds — by delivering an inclusive message of unity. Some will inevitably consider that his victory in Istanbul makes him a potential rival to take on Erdogan during his presidential run in 2023.
Istanbul is not the only significant defeat suffered by the AKP; it also lost control of the capital Ankara and a number of other important areas, including the southern provinces of Antalya, Adana and Mersin, in the March elections.
Marc Pierini, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, believes that from a European viewpoint, the reason for the massive defeat suffered by the AKP in Istanbul can be linked to two main factors.
“The first is the dire economic situation in which Turkey’s economy currently finds itself,” he said. “The predominant perception, in the EU and in Turkey alike, is that the policy mix and the economic team are not up to the task and, therefore, need some major adjustments.”
Changes in economic policies will be futile, however, if they are not accompanied by substantial changes in the political governance, he added.
The second factor, according to Pierini, was the annulment of the March 31 election result based on dubious motives, which was the step too far in terms of the rule of law.
“The degradation of Turkey’s political governance has been steep for several years and is entirely driven by its president,” he said. “It now appears that there was a massive popular reaction against this state of affairs, including among AKP voters.”

Jordan slams Israeli police bid to silence call to prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets

Updated 15 April 2021

Jordan slams Israeli police bid to silence call to prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets

  • Israel is a signatory to numerous international treaties obliging it to respect the sanctity of holy places

AMMAN: Jordan on Wednesday condemned Israeli police for sabotaging door locks at four Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets in a bid to silence the Muslim call to prayer.

The move came after waqf officials, who oversee Jerusalem’s holy sites, refused to turn off loudspeakers on the first day of Ramadan. They said the Israelis had wanted it quiet while new soldiers prayed at the Buraq (Western) wall.

Jordanian officials claimed employees of the Jordan-run Jerusalem waqf and Al-Aqsa affairs department were harassed during the police operation.

Daifallah Al-Fayez, spokesman for the Jordanian Foreign Ministry, described the Israeli actions as a provocation against Muslims around the world and a violation of international law and the historical status quo.

He said that Al-Aqsa Mosque was a “pure” Islamic holy site and that the Jerusalem waqf department was “the sole authority” tasked with supervising all of its affairs.

A source at the Jerusalem Waqf Council told Arab News: “This is the first time since 1967 that Israeli occupiers have sabotaged locks in order to enter the minarets and physically cut off the electricity to the loudspeakers. And they pursued waqf officials and staff who refused to carry out their demands.”

Israel is a signatory to numerous international treaties obliging it to respect the sanctity of holy places.

An Israeli siren was sounded in Jerusalem at 8 p.m. on Tuesday as a tribute to the country’s 23,928 fallen soldiers with that day’s call for isha prayer in the city being at 8:29 p.m.

Hanna Issa, head of the Islamic-Christian Committee for Jerusalem, told Arab News that the Israeli action had been a violation of the 1998 Rome Convention and called on the international community to hold Israel to account.

Dimitri Diliani, president of the National Christian Coalition in the Holy Land, told Arab News that the incident was an attempt to stifle religious freedoms and represented an attack against Islamic holy places.

“In addition, this is a reflection of a racist policy of the Israeli occupiers that can’t accept anyone who is not Jewish,” he said.

Ahmad Tamimi, member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, urged international action to put an end to Israeli violations of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem.

Houthis to prosecute abducted Yemeni model

Updated 15 April 2021

Houthis to prosecute abducted Yemeni model

  • Kidnapping of Al-Hammadi and two friends is latest attack by the Houthis on dissidents

AL-MUKALLA: Iran-backed Houthis plan to launch a criminal investigation against Entesar Al-Hammadi, a young Yemeni model and actress, who was abducted from a Sanaa street on Feb. 20, the model’s lawyer Khaled Mohammed Al-Kamal said on Wednesday.

The kidnapping of Al-Hammadi and two of her friends is the latest in a string of attacks by the Houthis on dissidents and liberal women in areas under the group’s control.

Al-Kamal told Arab News that a prosecutor from the rebel-controlled West Sanaa court will question Entesar on Sunday.

“My client was arrested without a warrant,” Al-Kamal said by telephone, giving no information about the Houthis’ explanation for the abduction.

Yemeni officials said the three actresses were traveling to shoot a drama series when the rebels stopped their vehicle on Sanaa’s Hadda Street and took them to an unknown location.

Al-Hammadi was born to a Yemeni father and an Ethiopian mother and pursued her ambition to become a model despite growing up in a conservative society. The 20-year-old first caught the public’s attention after she published images showing off traditional Yemeni costumes and she later appeared on a local television show talking about her dream of becoming an international supermodel.

The Houthis accused the abducted actresses of violating traditional Islamic dress codes.

Their detainment has sparked outrage inside and outside Yemen as human rights activists and government officials compared Houthi suppression of women to similar activities by terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh.

Moammar Al-Eryani, Yemen's minister for information, culture and tourism, said the rebels have launched a “systemic and organized” crackdown on Yemeni women in areas under their control.

“We call on the international community, the UN, the US envoys to Yemen and the women's protection organizations to condemn this crime and pressure the terrorist Houthi militia to immediately release the abductees,” the minister wrote on social media. “They must stop the extortion of women and release all disappeared women from their secret prisons unconditionally.”

Al-Hammadi told a local TV station last year that she wished she could travel abroad to work as a model, citing parental and societal resistance at home.

“It would be great if I was given an opportunity outside Yemen,” she said.

Social media users have blasted the Houthis for snatching women from the street.

Huda Al-Sarari, a Yemeni activist, said that the abduction of Al-Hammadi is part of “a dirty” campaign by the rebels against women.

“My solidarity is with my dear Entisar and with all male and female abductees inside the militia’s prisons,” she wrote on Twitter.

Amat Al-Salam Al-Hajj, chairwoman of the Mothers of Abductees Association, an umbrella organization for thousands of female relatives of war prisoners, told Arab News that the Houthis have “brazenly” committed crimes against dissidents and women amid “unexplained” silence of international rights organizations.

“The Houthis have abducted models and female activists and committed flagrant violations of human rights before the eyes and ears of the UN, human rights organizations, and everyone else,” she said.

WHO worried COVID-19 rates could spike during Ramadan

Updated 15 April 2021

WHO worried COVID-19 rates could spike during Ramadan

  • In Yemen, where some 14 million doses were pledged through the Covax program that aims to ensure equitable access to COVID vaccinations

CAIRO: The World Health Organization expressed concern on Wednesday that the COVID-19 pandemic could worsen in the Middle East and North Africa during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Detected cases of COVID infection in the region rose 22 percent last week, while deaths rose 17 percent, said Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the Cairo-based chief of the WHO for the eastern Mediterranean.

Mandhari said the situation in the vast region reflects a “worrying trend.” “We are especially worried that the current situation may worsen during Ramadan if people don’t follow and adhere to the proven social measures that work,” he told an online news conference.

Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam, began in most Muslim countries on Tuesday. Observant Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk, and traditionally gather with family and friends to break their fast.

“This year, like last year, people may feel that the spirit of Ramadan has changed because of social distancing and lockdowns,” said Mandhari. “But the actions that need to be maintained to help contain the pandemic are in line with the basic tenets of Islam: Take care of your physical health and do no harm to others.”

Dalia Samhouri, WHO’s regional head of emergency preparedness, said the international organization wanted “countries to do a risk assessment in order to prevent the dissemination of the infection.”

She suggested measures that could be taken around mosques during Ramadan, including physical distancing, ventilation, and regular disinfection. People who felt sick were advised to stay at home, along with the elderly and sufferers of chronic disease, she said.

Mandhari said all countries in the region had received vaccines, but that those with the most limited access were Yemen and Syria.

“Although progress has been made with starting vaccination around the world, there remains a shocking imbalance in the distribution of vaccines,” he said. “This is especially true in our region.”

In Yemen, where some 14 million doses were pledged through the Covax program that aims to ensure equitable access to COVID vaccinations, only 360,000 have been delivered.

Turkey frees journalist Altan after European rights court ruling

Updated 14 April 2021

Turkey frees journalist Altan after European rights court ruling

  • Award-winning editor was jailed after writing politically-sensitive articles and columns critical of Erdogan and supporting Kurdish rights
  • Cassation Court’s Wednesday ruling overturned Altan’s conviction in the 2019 case related to charges of assisting a terrorist organisation

ISTANBUL : A Turkish court on Wednesday ordered the release of journalist and novelist Ahmet Altan after over four years in prison for involving in a failed 2016 coup attempt that he had always denied.
The Court of Cassation ruling came a day after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) demanded the 71-year-old’s freedom in a verdict that accused Turkey of violating his civil rights.
Altan’s lawyer Figen Calikusu told AFP that the writer was released from the Silivri prison on Istanbul’s western outskirts a few hours after the verdict was announced.
The award-winning novelist and newspaper editor was jailed after writing politically-sensitive articles and columns critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and supporting Kurdish rights.
The 71-year-old was arrested shortly after the putsch attempt as part of a purge of media organizations and accused of supporting the uprising by “disseminating subliminal messages to the public.”
He was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment for trying to overthrow the government — a ruling that was later quashed by Turkey’s top court.
But the case was re-examined and he was sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison for “knowingly supporting a terrorist organization” that was involved in the 2016 coup attempt.
“Very happy to hear Turkey’s Court of Cassation has just ordered the release of novelist Ahmet Altan after more than 4.5 years in jail,” the European Parliament’s Turkey rapporteur Nacho Sanchez Amor tweeted.
“Will be even happier after seeing him enjoying fully his freedom and all charges dropped. Hope all other (ECHR) rulings will be applied too.”
The Court of Cassation ruling came as Erdogan mounts a charm offensive aimed at mending torn relations with the European Union and building a new rapport with the US administration of President Joe Biden.
EU leaders highlighted Turkey’s deteriorating human rights record during a summit in Ankara last week.
Biden’s White House has also made human rights a much bigger issue in US-Turkish relations than it had been in the former administration of Donald Trump.
Turkish officials argue that the courts are independent and not swayed by politics or Erdogan’s whims.
But critics accuse Erdogan of stacking them with supporters during the sweeping purges that followed the coup attempt.
Western observers have thus been watching the case of Altan and some other famous prisoners for signs of Turkey’s diplomatic intentions and future political course.
Perhaps the most celebrated case involves civil society leader Osman Kavala — in custody without a conviction for nearly four years and re-arrested after being cleared of all charges in 2019.
Altan was also briefly freed and cleared of all charges before being almost immediately rearrested in 2019.
The Court of Cassation ruling on Wednesday overturned his conviction in the 2019 case related to charges of “assisting a terrorist organization.”
He had turned to the ECHR for help in 2017 after calling the charges against him “grotesque.”
The Strasbourg-based rights court on Tuesday found “no evidence that the actions of the applicant had been part of a plan to overthrow the government.”
It ordered Turkey to immediately release him and pay him 16,000 euros ($19,000) in damages for violating his rights to freedom of expression.
“Deprivation of liberty, in particular continued detention, must be based on reasonable suspicion,” the ECHR ruling said.
The ECHR “found that the applicant’s criticisms of the president’s political approach could not be seen as an indication that he had had prior knowledge of the attempted coup,” it added.

Remains of Daesh-beheaded Syrian archaeologist still missing

Updated 14 April 2021

Remains of Daesh-beheaded Syrian archaeologist still missing

  • Three bodies had been located in Kahloul, 10 km east of Palmyra, where Khaled Al-Asaad was killed in 2015, but DNA testing has ruled out the archaeologist being among them
  • Al-Asaad, known as ‘the father of Palmyra,’ was 83 when Daesh extremists executed him on August 18, 2015, three months after they overran the so-called ‘Pearl of the Desert’

DAMASCUS: The remains of Khaled Al-Asaad, a Syrian archaeologist beheaded by Daesh group extremists, have yet to be recovered, his son told AFP on Wednesday.
The official SANA news agency reported in February that authorities had uncovered three corpses in Kahloul, 10 kilometers (six miles) east of the ancient city of Palmyra where Al-Asaad was killed in 2015.
Al-Asaad was believed to be among them, SANA said at the time, ahead of DNA testing.
But two months later, DNA results have shown that the remains of the archaeologist have yet to be found, his son Tareq said.
“Authorities have just informed us that the DNA test results are not compatible with my father,” he said.
“Our sorrows and wounds have returned,” he said. “We had hoped to close this wound.”
Officials have yet to comment.
Al-Asaad, known as “the father of Palmyra,” was 83 when Daesh extremists executed him on August 18, 2015, three months after they overran the so-called “Pearl of the Desert.”
Seen as a pioneer of Syrian archaeology, Al-Asaad was director of antiquities in Palmyra for 40 years until 2003.
He was responsible for the discovery of several ancient cemeteries and oversaw the excavation of 1,000 columns as well as the site’s stunning necropolis of 500 tombs.