For the first time in 25 years, the party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will not be running Turkey's biggest city. With his landmark victory in Sunday's election rerun, Ekrem Imamoglu will be the new mayor of Istanbul, with significance that reaches well beyond the city's 15 million residents. Imamoglu, who won easily 54% to 45%, had already narrowly beaten the ruling party's candidate, former Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. But Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, AKP, challenged the election for alleged voting irregularities. The voided vote put into question the very standing of Turkish democracy and whether Erdogan's party, which has governed Turkey since 2002, would accept any major defeat at the polls.
ISTANBUL — In a country where the president can restrict basic rights and shows no respect to freedom, where the model of "One-Person Leadership" exists, the question hangs in the balance: Can Turkish democracy be rebuilt from the nation's biggest city?
This is the ultimate "test" in front of Republican People's Party's (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu and the incoming Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu. They will enter this test alongside the mayors of Ankara and Izmir, also from allies opposed to Turkey's ruling national party AKP. I, for one, believe their chances are pretty high. Democracy is a communal project, including all classes of society:
For democracy to be built and function properly, we need free people, free working-class organizations. Democracy, from an individual perspective, is an ongoing education and game of knowledge. We need people who will show the same amount of respect for rights and freedoms of others as they do for their own.
Is what we've seen a sign that the country is set to embrace democracy?
Democracy, as an ideology and an idea, sees everyone as equals. But this equality is also crucial to it functioning well.
Turkey, from a societal, individual and an intellectual angle, is considered to be "underdeveloped" or a "developing country," in terms of politics, economics and culture. It is certainly a country, but it's another thing to be a well functioning democracy.
But now, is what we've seen in elections in three major cities in Turkey a sign that the country is set to embrace democracy?
Ekrem Imamoglu addressing supporters in Istanbul on June 21 — Photo: Kemal Aslan/Depo Photos/ZUMA
Ataturk and his friends, after winning the Turkish War of Independence, brought a new leadership, that was hard to adopt, with a new economic and political structure. This ultimately would lead to the current state we are faced with today.
The so-called "democracy" of Turkey's ruling party, with its illegal and illegitimate approach to voting, has turned into a "One-Person Leadership." In Istanbul, the biggest city of all, is it possible to create a genuinely democratic leadership? Ekrem Imamoglu, this is your test!
Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara stand together.
After the clear signs of democracy in Izmir and Ankara in March, last Sunday's results in Istanbul" show a real "National Resistance" that proves we are tilting toward democracy. Looking at the results of these three major Turkish cities, we can say that the voters are against an unlawful and unjust "One-Person Leadership."
If the people of Istanbul had been left alone, Imamoglu would not have had a high chance of passing this greater test. But Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara stand together. The "National Resistance" is real and we have to embrace democracy. For those who promote backwards thinking in our country, beware! And may the battle to rebuild democracy in Turkey begin.