Turkey: Hometown Blues for Erdogan

Turkey: Hometown Blues for Erdogan

When Istanbul elected a young, Islamist mayor in 1994, it sent a shockwave through Turkey's secular political establishment and marked the beginning of a sea change in the country's politics. Recep Tayyip Erdogan would use the mayoralty of Turkey's largest city as a springboard to national power, which he has now dominated for 16 years.

But on Sunday, his hometown turned its back on him.


In nationwide municipal elections, the coalition led by Erdogan's ruling AK Party (AKP) lost control of a number of key cities, including the nation's capital, Ankara, as well as several coastal centers.

But the biggest loss was Istanbul, which has been under the control of parties aligned with Erdogan since he was mayor. This is a significant setback for a leader, and a party, who have won every major election in Turkey since 2002.

The election was above all a referendum on Erdogan's increasing authoritarianism and his handling of the economy.

Over the past several years, Erdogan has vastly expanded his power. After a failed coup against his government in 2016, he purged more than 100,000 state employees and threw a number of journalists in jail. In 2017, he narrowly won a controversial referendum that permitted him to increase the power of the presidency, a position he then won in an election last summer.

In recent weeks, Erdogan campaigned furiously for his party, suggesting to Turkish voters that voting for the AKP was a matter of national survival and sovereignty.

But those voters went to the polls amid an economic recession spurred in part by Erdogan's disastrous economic policies: his approach of spouting conspiracy theories and pumping cash into the economy without worrying about inflation spooked foreign investors last year, leading to a currency crisis that affected the broader economy. What's more, urban voters have become increasingly frustrated with poor management and corruption at the local level in cities controlled by the AKP and its affiliates.

Yesterday wasn't all bad news for Erdogan: the AKP still won far more votes than any other party nationally, and it remains strong in the country's rural heartlands. For tens of millions of conservative Turks, Erdogan is still the man who made their voices heard in Turkish politics for the first time. And they still remember fondly the economic boom years over which he presided.

But losing the big cities means losing control over the country's major population centers and economic hubs, and with them a huge source of cash and patronage that can be doled out to supporters and cronies in the future.

Will Erdogan seek to win those cities back, or will he double down on an even more divisive politics now?

Elsewhere in the world of "throw the bums out": Turkey wasn't the only place where voters flipped on those in power this weekend. Across the Black Sea in Ukraine, comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who plays a president on TV, rang up nearly twice the vote share of the actual president, Petro Poroshenko, in the first round of that country's presidential balloting. Zelenskiy and Poroshenko – a chocolate industry tycoon who won the presidency after Ukraine's 2014 uprising – now head to a Comedian vs Candyman runoff on 21 April.

And next door in Slovakia, pro-EU anti-corruption crusader Zuzana Caputova won the presidency, amid a campaign shaped in part by the murder last year of an investigative journalist who'd unearthed ties between government officials and organized crime. Although Slovakia's presidency is a largely ceremonial office, the triumph of Caputova, a political newcomer and the country's first female president, flies in the face of recent gains for macho right-wing Euroskeptic parties elsewhere in Central Europe.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

More Show less

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

More Show less

In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

More Show less

When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

More Show less

YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

More Show less

Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

More Show less

28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal