This piece was originally written for and published on InsideOver:
Istanbul re-elections in Turkey has resulted with the loss of the government party AKP's candidate, the former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım. The winner Ekrem İmamoğlu's slogan for the campaign was “Herşey Çok Güzel Olacak”- “Everything Will Be Very Beautiful.” After the elections people went out in the streets, celebrating until late hours; messages declaring “Everything has been very good now” flooded social media. There was victory in the air, there was euphoria. The cafes and restaurants on the main avenues of Istanbul profited nicely from it. What most people do not wish to confess even to themselves is that everything has not been, cannot be very good with just one election. They either do not realize or do not wish to see that this feeling of euphoria is temporary.
The slogan with which İmamoğlu came to power, “Everything will be beautiful” is superficial. True, we live in a world where politicians and ad agents make superficial assertions all the time, aiming at our soft, gullible sides. Trump promised a “beauuutiful” wall. It's easy to make people fall for false promises of rose gardens. That's why, we need to be more careful with political rhetoric.
First of all, running a metropolis of more than 15 million is a very challenging task. To be able to make such a strong claim that all is now very fine or will be, one needs to have accomplished something first. (Admitted, for supporters of the CHP, winning an election meant so much. It implied getting back some power. So it's an accomplishment on its own.)
Secondly, everything was not bad. What fanatical opponents of Erdoğan do not talk about is how advanced things are in Turkey. Criticize the president all you want, and there is reason for criticism in many places, but what's Ceaser's should be given to Ceaser.
Politics aside, public services work quite efficiently in Turkey. Be it being able to get on all public transportation, buses, trains, trams, metros, ferries, with an electronic-ticket Akbil, short for Akıllı Bilet- “Smart Ticket” or getting appointments in hospitals, being able to get blood tests efficiently. These are things that the capital cities of European countries like Rome lack. Turkey has quite a successful public health system, something that the “biggest” country in the world, the US has not been able to solve for years. There is health tourism to Turkey, with people coming from abroad for treatment at the big private hospitals. The post office, the banks... they work. What's more, they work well.
Albeit not perfectly, everything works in Turkey. There is an e-government system which now incorporates almost every public institution. You can see the properties you own, their location, their mortgage status, or view it from Google Maps. You can do all your taxes online. UYAP-Ulusal Yargı Ağı Projesi, “National Jurisdiction Network Project” is an online platform where any citizen can go and see all the lawsuits on his name, check out all the papers filed for the case, see all court proceedings. With an e-signature or a certified e-mail, one can do anything online without having the need to go to an office. Even the payments are online. Forms to fill are practical and easy.
The complaint procedures are there too. Any citizen can reach the presidency or the ombudsman with the click of a keyboard and he will get an answer. Of course, there is no guarantee that one will like or approve of the answers they get, but the system is there. And again, works.
When you need to go to any public office, all your data can be accessed with your Turkish ID number, so you can have the paper you need printed out in 20 seconds. Things do not work so efficiently in many European countries. Of course, there is a downside to all this. Government is too powerful, it has too much information about you. On the other hand, it is nice to be able to have paperwork done practically instead of suffering through bureaucracies as in Italy.
Turkey has made a leap in the international arena as well. In May 2009, Turkey had only 12 embassies in Africa, whereas now it has 39. DEIK-Dış Ekonomik İlişkiler Kurumu, Foreign Economic Relations Board has held the second Turkey-Africa Economic and Business Forum along with partnership of the African Union last October.
Turkish Airlines-THY is the airline connecting the world to most African countries, going where other airlines fear to fly. In 2009 it had 13 destinations to the continent, whereas now it has 51. It flies to 32 of the 54 countries in Africa. THY is not the biggest airline in the world by annual number of passengers, by passenger kilometers flown, by revenue or by fleet size. Yet, it is the airline flying to most countries in the world. It flies to 236 international destinations in 121 countries. The second runner-up is Air France flying to 91 countries. British Airways is third with 82 countries. So Turkey's flag-carrier airline lives up to its “Globally Yours” slogan.
My Italian husband is cautious if he should show me the newspaper clip saying Turkey is in competition with Italy for exporting pasta. Many Turkish firms are constructing airports, railroads, hospitals, doing big infrastructure investment in Africa, South America and Asia.
In the last couple of years, Turkey has also invested in Antarctica surprising many with the delegates sent to the conferences, setting up a Turkish Polar Research Center (PolReC). There has been three national expeditions in the last three years. Some countries have complimented Turkey that it has done much more research in that short amount of time than countries that have been there for decades.
There has been mega projects in Istanbul, like the third airport, the biggest in the world. The third bridge. The Euroasia Tunnel, world's first two-deck highway tunnel under the seabed.
So why, with all this good in Turkey, the backlash against Erdoğan or AKP?
First of all, there are always people questioning political decisions or the allocation of funds from the national budget. People disagree on what to do or how to do things. There is no way out of that.
Second, we all know power corrupts, Erdoğan's acting like a “sultan” probably played a part.
Another possible explanation may be found partly in the fact that gratefulness is not a lasting feeling in the political arena. What once upon a time looked like a dream (an efficient public administration system, a high-tech social environment in which business could thrive, quality public transportation at reasonable costs and a stunning set of modern infrastructures, a health system comparable to those of the so much envied western economies), rapidly loses its allure once achieved, starts being perceived as a commodity that is taken for granted.
Along with this “accomplishment effect”, a part of the explanation lies in the brisk slowing down of the economy which, in a fast and painful spiral, has brought about higher unemployment, higher inflation, higher interest rates and a sheer drop in the exchange rate of the Turkish lira. Coupled with the hardening of the government's grip on individual freedoms in the name of security, a growing sense of unrest in important areas of the country due to the revival of the Kurdish issue, reinforced by the difficult geopolitical scenario still hovering over the country, the Syrian crisis and number of refugees in Turkey, all have played a part.
On the other hand, the retaliation to the governing party is not new, there has been disgruntlement among the “elite” for a long time. Still, Erdoğan never really lost an election in all these almost two decades of rule. So why now?
Basically, the main opposition party CHP lacked real leadership. In Imamoğlu, people saw a glimmer of hope. Will he live up to the expectations of Istanbulites and the rest of the country? Who knows? But to say that everything has been very beautiful with the winning of Istanbul by CHP is too premature. If everything will be beautiful or not, only time can tell...
Everywhere around the world, local administrative elections suffer from the same manipulative interpretation patterns: If the country's ruling party wins a large city the vote is portrayed as an endorsement for the policies at the national level and a boost to continue along the path. Should the governing party lose ground, the failure is rapidly downsized to a local event, nothing to do with national policies. However, Istanbul being the economic, cultural, and historic center, being the heart of Turkey, puts this election on a different level. Erdoğan himself has said “Whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey.”
On 6th of July, the head of the central bank Murat Çetinkaya was sacked because of disagreement over the key policy decisions on interest rates and how to deal with the downfall of the Turkish lira which suffered a 30 % loss in value last year and 10 % more this year.
Two days later, Turkey's former economy minister and deputy prime minister Ali Babacan resigned from AKP citing deep differences in principles, values and thoughts. Babacan was among the founders of the party in 2001. There is talk about a new formation coming up in fall.
Perhaps it was time for some blood change in the country. Even though with age comes experience and wisdom, perhaps Erdoğan is getting old and losing the emotional touch with the electorate.
Whoever comes to take over, apart from being capable of running a country, keeping up the good that has been done, should remember not to end up trapped in the sticky webs of political rhetoric. Like the Spider-Man quote “With great powers come great responsibility.” And the important thing is to put that power to work for the advantage of the many. Well... That's wise advice that all politicians around the world could use.
Erdoğan had responded to İmamoğlu with “Everything will be better.” Everything being good and beautiful is utopia; “better”, we can aim for.