Istanbul Election Shows How Democracy Is Won

The opposition coalition, led by the Republican People's Party (CHP), won in Turkey's three most important metropolitan areas: Ankara, Izmir, and Istanbul.

As the country's economic capital and most populous city, Istanbul was the real prize. In addition to its symbolic importance, it also confers significant power and resources (and opportunities for corruption) on those who control it.

As Erdogan himself has said, "whoever wins Istanbul wins Turkey".

Like populist leaders in the Philippines, Brazil, Hungary, Poland and elsewhere, Erdogan, who began his own political career as Istanbul's mayor in the 1990s, seemed prepared to do what was needed to reverse an electoral outcome that didn't go his way.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of the ruling Justice and Development Party in Ankara in June 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE/Turkish President Press Office

But the opposition ignored those who wanted it to boycott the re-vote, and instead went into the new election with even stronger resolve, soundly defeating Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has ruled Turkey since 2002, and Istanbul since 1994.

The new mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu of the CHP, captured over 54 per cent of the vote against former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım of the AKP.

The significance of this outcome extends beyond Istanbul and even Turkey, because it shines a spotlight on authoritarian populists' biggest weakness: the ballot box.

Today's populists are not the same as past strongmen in Latin America, South Asia and Turkey, who wore army fatigues and jackboots and took power through coups.

Those earlier foes of democracy, like Augusto Pinochet in Chile, held onto their positions through sheer violence, regularly...

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