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Turkey: Erdogan Loses Small and Then Loses Big

Turkey: Erdogan Loses Small and Then Loses Big

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has amassed much power in recent years, but on Sunday he showed some real political superpower alchemy: he turned a narrow defeat into a blowout loss.

Back in March, his preferred candidate, Binali Yildirim of Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), lost the Istanbul mayoral election to opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu by just 13,000 votes in a city of 15 million people. After forcing through a (highly controversial) rerun of the vote, Erdogan watched his man lose again last Sunday—this time by 800,000 votes – a nine percentage point spread in the final tally.

To lose control of the symbolic and economic capital of Turkey, a city where Erdogan himself once served as mayor, is a heavy political blow for him personally and for his party. He had campaigned vigorously for Yildirim. Imamoglu, meanwhile, styled himself as an alternative to Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian, divisive, and economically ham-fisted politics. The final vote was at least in part a referendum on the president himself.

As the dust settles, there are a few points to consider:

A loss like this puts blood in the water around Erdogan, who has dominated his country's politics for the past 16 years. Opponents both within and outside the AKP will feel emboldened to challenge him more directly on a host of issues, including his handling of the economy and foreign policy. New opposition parties led by former Erdogan allies may now spring up.

You can bet Erdogan will make life hard for Imamoglu. Yildirim and Erdogan both accepted the outcome – with a margin like that how could they not? But Erdogan will want to keep Imamoglu from being too effective as mayor, lest that provide a platform for a national-level challenge. At the same time, Erdogan will have to tread carefully to avoid provoking protests from a city that has very clearly turned against him.

Turkish democracy is more resilient than it's sometimes made out to be. Yes, Erdogan has in recent years pushed his country in a more authoritarian direction – by clamping down on the courts and the media, and purging the bureaucracy of perceived political opponents. But as Imamoglu's win shows (twice!) -- Turkish party politics and elections remain plenty competitive and unpredictable.

The big question: As Erdogan looks towards 2023, the scheduled date for the next national elections (barring a coalition collapse that leads to an earlier ballot) will he moderate his politics at all in order to bounce back from the Istanbul loss? Or will the famously pugnacious president double down on his approach, reasoning that any concessions would simply encourage more challengers? A thwarted would-be autocrat is a dangerous thing.

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When Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday — plunging the country into chaos as it faces once-in-a-generation public health and economic crises — he became the fourteenth Italian to vacate the prime ministership in three decades. (For contrast, Germany has only had three chancellors since 1982, and France has had five presidents.)

But Conte, who had no previous political experience until he was tapped for the top job in 2018, is not so much throwing in the towel as he is taking a massive gamble that President Sergio Mattarella will again appoint him to head Conte's third coalition government in less than three years.

The recent dysfunction is unique even within the context of instability-prone Italian politics. How did Italy get here, and what might come next?

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

What did you think of Xi Jinping's speech at the virtual World Economic Forum?

Well, his last speech at the real World Economic Forum in Davos, I remember being there four years ago, and given that Trump had just been elected, Xi Jinping gives this big, "We want to stand up and be leaders while the Americans are doing America first." And generally speaking, was probably the most important speech of the week. People liked it. This is a pretty different environment, not so much because Trump has gone, but rather because support and belief in Xi Jinping is pretty low. I will say one thing that was generally well responded to was the call not to enter into a new Cold War. Anybody in the business community generally supports that. There's so much integration and interdependence between the US and the Chinese economies that when Xi Jinping says, "We need to find ways to continue to work together," I mean, this is the pro-globalization audience he's speaking to. They generally agree. But otherwise, the message fell pretty flat. So, the idea that China is going to be globally useful on issues of leadership, especially when it comes to anything that might threaten Beijing's sovereignty, they check global norms at the door. And a few examples of that, when Xi called for support for the rules-based international order, that's in obvious contrast with China's violation of the one country, two systems framework in Hong Kong. And they said, "Well, that's a domestic issue." Well, actually that's not what your agreement was with the British handover. And just because you're more powerful doesn't mean that norm doesn't matter anymore.

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Over the weekend, some 40,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across Russia braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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Angry farmers take Indian fort: In a major and violent escalation of ongoing protests over new agriculture laws, thousands of Indian farmers broke through police barricades and stormed the historic Red Fort in New Delhi on Tuesday. At least one protester died in the chaos, while the government shut down internet service in parts of the capital. Farmers and the government are still deadlocked over the new laws, which liberalize agriculture markets in ways that farmers fear will undercut their livelihoods. The government has offered to suspend implementation for 18 months, but the farmers unions are pushing for a complete repeal. Given that some 60 percent of India's population works in agriculture, the standoff has become a major political test for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling BJP party.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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