Why The Stakes Are So High For Erdogan In Istanbul

Turkey's president first burst on the scene in 1994 when he was elected mayor of Istanbul. Now, his party tries to hold the city.

Ballot boxes in Istanbul on March 31
Ballot boxes in Istanbul on March 31
Baris Doster

ISTANBUL — It has been 10 days since the municipal elections. There are still many objections to the vote counts nationwide from the ruling coalition of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and their ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The battle for the city of Istanbul being the biggest point of content, the vote of March 31 may turn into a point of contention for our nation's politics, sociology and history.

Procedures and institutions exist with the authority to deal with election results, questionable ballots, mistakes in records and objections from candidates. Yet, the prolonged waiting and debate on conventional and social media is increasing the tension. It appears clear that the objections of the government bloc are more likely to be accepted by the authorities than those of opposition parties. The uneven and unfair conditions we witnessed during the campaign continue after it's over.

Yet the true importance of this election goes beyond who will run the cities. This election showed that the opposition can defeat the government if they work hard and protect the ballots during counting. Ankara and Istanbul, the two largest cities of Turkey, have changed hands after 25 years, since the Felicity Party (or RP, of which the AKP splintered from) won in both cities in 1994.

AKP founders called themselves "a municipality movement."

Let us also not forget that the government itself has set the mood for the municipal election, saying they were as important as general elections. AKP has presented the election as a matter of survival for the country. They used all the unfair advantages of holding power and did everything possible to ensure victory. Naturally, a defeat under these conditions is far more troubling and demoralizing than losing a regular municipal election — and reactions from the government front show that. Likewise, the opposition has seen a huge boost in morale. If the AKP had not made this municipal elections a kind of nationwide referendum, the blowback of the results would not have arrived.

Erdogan election poster in Istanbul — Photo: Tanya Talaga/ZUMA

It is not the close margin between the mayoral candidates that puts Istanbul in the center of the post-election disputes. Beyond the historical, political and cultural importance, beyond its huge share of the Turkish economy, industrial production and tourism, Istanbul is strategically crucial for the political future of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his party.

Turkey was introduced to Erdoğan when he has won the mayorship of Istanbul as the RP candidate in 1994. Many of the people with whom he founded the AKP in 2001 are his colleagues from the Istanbul municipality era. It was no coincidence that many AKP founders back then called themselves "a municipality movement," and this helps explain why they are objecting to the election results with such vigor, even calling for the city of Istanbul to be required to hold a re-vote.

The current post-election experience in Turkey is a reminder both of how important elections are for a democracy, but also how insufficient they become without justice, equality and rule of law.

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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