File photo of Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, | Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
File photo of Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan | Simon Dawson | Bloomberg
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in a state of shock. His party, the Justice and Development Party (or AK Party) lost the local mayoral elections Sunday, including in two of the biggest cities in Turkey – Istanbul and capital Ankara.

The election results have shown that the ruling AK Party’s strategy of placing strongman leader, who has ruled Turkey with an iron grip, at the centre of the election campaign wasn’t such a wise decision, after all.

It has been a major defeat for the president and his Islamic regime. Erdogan has led the country for over 15 years and his party has now requested its electoral body to recount the votes in 39 districts.

Also read: Turkey sends message to President Erdogan through local poll defeat — fix economic reforms

As the recount continues, opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu, who is up to be the mayor of Istanbul, demands the people’s mandate be delivered.

The party failed in big cities where he wanted his strongman regime to take root. The fragility of the Erdogan regime has once again been exposed.

There are several reasons for the loss.

First, Erdogan’s oppressive regime is based on a witch-hunt. It controls the media, the judiciary and education systems. If you oppose their regime, they call you a ‘terrorist’. If you march for women’s rights, you are teargassed and defamed.

I can give an example from my own life. I am a doctor, but I cannot work in public hospitals. This is because there is a security investigation before one starts to work in public institutions. And I couldn’t pass the investigation because I attended demonstrations against the Erdogan government. For them, I am a terrorist.

The government’s orthodox Islamic regime especially oppresses women and youth. For example, on 8 March this year, the police attacked a march by thousands of women who were celebrating International Women’s Day with tear gas and rubber bullets. After that, they started a defamatory campaign against the feminist movement.

Let’s not forget the 2016 incident where several children were sexually abused in their dormitories in an Islamic foundation called Ensar Foundation. But a proposed bill to prevent child abuse was never passed in parliament and opposed by the ruling party’s MPs. Instead, the government’s education ministry chose to sign protocols with the Ensar Foundation that allowed the latter to offer Islamic courses in public education centres — thereby legitimising the foundation’s inaction.

This was not acceptable to the public conscience.

Also read: Blow to Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul’s electoral upset

Another big factor is the economic crisis in Turkey. Unemployment, the high cost of living, precarity make people’s lives difficult. And here is how the government addresses it — by trying to handle the economic crisis with brinkmanship. But people don’t want to listen to the same hollow narratives from the government anymore.

What awaits us in Turkey now?

I think the economic crisis will go deeper and contribute to further protests against Erdogan’s regime. This is the first election achievement for the opposition forces in many years. There is now hope for the people of Turkey and they want change.

It will be wise to recall here the 2013 Taksim Square incident. The main demand then was freedom.

This time around, the local election results have signalled hope for the parliamentary elections that are due in 2023. The voters this week have presented us a fertile opportunity for hope, freedom and justice in Turkey.

The author is an editor in Birgün Gazetesi newspaper.

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  1. Fifteen years at the apex of power is a little more than optimum. Populist leaders ignore the economic well being of their citizens at their own peril. Religion and nationalism are temporary palliatives. In Russia, Putin’s two decades in office have done very little for the least well off citizens, despite the commodities boom.

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