Election day was peacefuland fairly relaxed in much of Istanbul. The relaxed attitude of many locals and the absence of election paraphernalia in many parts of the city belied the turnout, which in Istanbul was an impressive 81% (for the full election results including turnout, see Hurriyet’s excellent interactive map). In many of the shops and stalls in the city’s commercial areas, an informal straw poll revealed quiet but committed support for the AKP.
Although most people were not flag-waving acolytes of the ruling party, and many thought that opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu had done a good job in modernizing the secular CHP, for them there was no arguing with the AKP’s track record over the last nine years. Bread-and-butter issues, namely the economy and Prime Minister Erdoğan’s vision to modernise Istanbul’s infrastructure, were at the forefront of their concerns. The issues which most columnists and analysts fret about – foreign policy; the AKP’s perceived slide towards authoritarianism; attacks on press freedom; and the government’s failure to solve the Kurdish issue – were marginal.
The CHP seemed to receive a stronger showing among young people concerned by the AKP’s growing religious conservatism. One international relations student at Istanbul University described herself as a pious Muslim, but one who disagreed strongly with the AKP’s efforts to “give people no choice if they are religious, cover themselves with headscarves [or not].” She said that her and most of her friends had voted for the CHP.
|The CHP's campaign office|
In the late afternoon I popped into the CHP’s Istanbul office, a shiny modern block which stands out in a tired neighbourhood on the European side near the Bosphorus Bridge. The building’s front is an enormous image of Kılıçdaroğlu looking suitably serious. Inside, the CHP team, many of them sharply dressed and in their late twenties, ran an operation which was sleek but lacked a certain buzz. A press room on the fourth floor was barely half-full and the staffers in the lobby seemed to be at something of a loose end.
This is not a definitive assessment, and the offices may have been packed to the rafters earlier in the day, but an hour before the polls closed the CHP headquarters did not look like the nerve centre of a winning party. Questions are now being asked about Kılıçdaroğlu’s leadership, which I will cover in a subsequent post.