Erdogan’s Latest Gamble Backfires in Istanbul Vote
The desperation to win Istanbul once again forced President Erdogan to embrace the imprisoned PKK leader to use his influence over Kurds. But it spectacularly backfired.
For months preceding the March 31 municipal elections, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his underlings ceaselessly accused the main opposition mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu of having ties to outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The affiliation charges were directed against the CHP candidate for just harboring positive feelings toward Selahattin Demirtas, the imprisoned former co-chair of pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP). In the eyes of the president and his ruling party, that was enough to label Imamoglu a “terrorist lover.”
Not long after that, and only several days before the critical re-run of the Istanbul vote this Sunday, the president came up with a move that apparently smacked of desperation. Desperate to win Istanbul amid poor poll results foretelling a possible defeat for a second time, President Erdogan summoned help from the most unlikely figure — jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan (APO) — to invoke his influence over Kurds in Istanbul vote. The pace of twists and turns in Erdogan’s discourse and politics baffled any casual observer, no less his secular opponents and nationalists.
But as odd figures coalesced around the shared goal of refurbishing the image of PKK chief as “a local and a national asset,” the question over the arbitrary definition to decide who is a terrorist and who is not is thrown into the heart of the national conversation.
Leading Islamist figure and a loyal Erdogan ally Abdurrahman Dilipak praised Ocalan as “someone who is from the family.” His portrayal of Ocalan as a loyal state agent seems to border on a bizarre conspiracy theory about the PKK founder’s alleged ties to the Turkish intelligence. But that theory, however implausible or far-fetched it may be, has long been peddled by journalists and scholars alike, with no clear-cut resolution of the surrounding mystery.
Homeland Party leader Dogu Perincek hailed Erdogan’s coddling of Ocalan as an “essential step to foil the U.S. move to promote Imamoglu” in…