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Opinion: A death knell for democracy

DW's Erkan Arikan
Erkan Arikan
May 7, 2019

Turkey's electoral authority has given in to presidential pressure: Istanbul's mayoral election will be rerun — and overseen largely by Erdogan's henchmen. DW's Erkan Arikan says Turkish democracy is dead.

A poster of President Erdogan after his 2018 re-election, which reads: "Our nation won, Turkey won, thank you, Istanbul"
Image: Getty Images/C. McGrath

For Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, defeats are out of the question. Especially when it comes to Istanbul — about which he once famously said "Whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey. Whoever loses Istanbul, loses Turkey." Municipal elections were held nationwide on March 31, and despite the strongman president's objections and a two-week recount, Istanbul went to the opposition. Yet it was clear that the official results weren't the end of the story for the metropolis on the Bosporus.

Even though the victor in the mayoral race, Ekrem Imamoglu of the opposition Social Democrats (CHP), has already received his appointment certificate, Erdogan and his conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) have pulled out all the stops so as not to lose in the city of over 15 million. Now, after the president's party has claimed certain district results were too tight to be conclusive, a new election is to be held to ensure there are no more alleged ballot discrepancies. But here's where it gets interesting: This time, the electoral scrutineers will not be state officials. What's even more interesting: Most of these scrutineers are members of Erdogan's AKP.

Read more: Freedom of speech in Turkey is in crisis

Many questions, no answers

Though there were more than just discrepancies in past elections, the Supreme Electoral Council has always rejected all opposition complaints. This time, the procedure is different — and that alone is indicative of the state of democracy in Turkey.

Erkan Arikan leads DW's Turkish desk
Erkan Arikan leads DW's Turkish deskImage: DW/B. Scheid

Why has the Supreme Electoral Council recognized the AKP's complaint? Why was the decision adjourned three times? How are the stock markets reacting to the announcement? There are no answers! There is only speculation. The country's highest electoral authority could not stand up to pressure from the president. And incidentally, the decision of the high electoral council is final and cannot be challenged.

Food for thought: It's Ramadan

Announcing the decision today was no accident — it was clearly intentional, and it was tactically wise. On this, the first day of Ramadan, there are no crowds on the streets to protest. Moreover, presenting a decision in the evening, after the financial markets close, indicates that the authorities hope they can avoid a massive reaction that will worsen the country's already dire economic situation. Far from it — economic experts have already speculated in recent days that the Turkish lira will dramatically drop in value relative to the euro and dollar should the elections be repeated.

Amidst all this uncertainty, one thing is clear: No matter what is chosen on June 23, democracy has already lost in Turkey.