The opposition’s landslide victory in Istanbul’s mayoral election rerun has spawned a new star on the Turkish political scene: Ekrem Imamoglu. The 49-year-old managed to break President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s quarter-century stranglehold on Turkey ’s financial and commercial capital – and possibly the country – at a delicate time for the leader, who is confronting an anaemic economy and an insurgency in his own party. Ironically, Erdogan – whose campaign to overturn the result of the initial vote went against his own record of seeking legitimacy at the ballot box – appears to have brought this upon himself, by inadvertently reviving a leitmotif of Turkish electoral politics: victimisation of aspiring leaders by the political establishment results in them being elevated to hero status. Erdogan should have known better. As Istanbul’s mayor 20 years ago, his popularity soared after he was given a 10-month jail term for reciting a poem allegedly inciting violence and religious hatred. He was stripped of his mayoral seat, but was cast in the role of victim as a result – and was thus catapulted to national fame. As if oblivious to that history, in the run-up to last Sunday’s election, Erdogan brought up Imamoglu’s alleged insult to a provincial governor as possible grounds for barring him from office, sending a warning that it would be unwise for the public to vote for a candidate whose chances of assuming office were questionable. The gambit failed spectacularly. Imamoglu’s winning margin in the do-over election was more than 800,000 votes – a sea change from his 14,000-vote win the first time around . The landslide left no room for doubt: his opponent, Binali Yildirim, conceded quickly, and Erdogan followed suit, sending his congratulations via Twitter. İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediye Başkanlığı yenileme seçimi sonuçlarının İstanbul'umuz için hayırlara vesile olmasını diliyorum. Milli irade bugün bir kez daha tecelli etmiştir. Gayrı resmi sonuçlara göre seçimi kazanan Ekrem İmamoğlu'nu tebrik ediyorum. — Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RTErdogan) June 23, 2019 <!--//--><![CDATA[// ><!--\n\n\n//--><!]]> The contest was devoid of drama, but what comes next will be full of it. Much has been made of the fallout that Erdogan will have to deal with as a consequence of losing Istanbul: his Justice and Development Party (AKP) will lose control of the municipality’s budget, which amounts to more than US$7 billion. Imamoglu has also pledged to conduct a thorough review of municipal finances, which is likely to shine a spotlight on questionable dealings between the party and its patrons, who have been rewarded with lucrative municipal contracts and the like. The increased scrutiny will strip the party’s machinery of its procurement and patronage advantage, choking off its food chain. That is only the start of Erdogan’s problems, and probably the least of his concerns. A graver threat is that Imamoglu’s victory has bolstered the confidence of the opposition, which had been in retreat since the crackdown after the abortive coup attempt in 2016 . The three biggest cities in Turkey are now in the hands of the opposition, presenting it with a rare opportunity to prove itself to voters who have grown disgruntled with the AKP, but are reluctant to switch sides because of the poor track record of other parties in the past. This time, though, the opposition could come from within. Imamoglu’s victory is emboldening dissident voices within the AKP. Disillusioned senior officials are expected to join forces in a breakaway party that will star Erdogan’s old partners, such as Ahmet Davutoglu, a former prime minister, and Abdullah Gul , a former president. They have long been marginalised within the party by the so-called Pelikan clique, a group of MPs, businesspeople and journalists who have monopolised the connection between the party and the president and are said to enjoy the patronage of Berat Albayrak, Erdogan’s son-in-law and finance minister. These Erdogan loyalists have benefited from municipal tenders in Istanbul and were reportedly behind the decision to seek a do-over of the election. A breakaway party is likely to attract many AKP MPs, who are growing disgruntled by the Pelikan’s hold over the party. US redoubles threat to Turkey over purchase of Russian missile system If that happens, it will spell the end of the AKP as we know it. Moreover, it will cost Erdogan the majority vote in parliament, which may result in early elections and even trigger a crisis in Turkey’s new presidential system. This is something he can ill-afford. He was banking on a clear run of four years – he has said he will not seek early elections – in order to right the Turkish ship and position himself for more years at the helm. With the Turkish economy in the doldrums, and a showdown with the United States over the purchase of S-400 missiles from Russia looming, Erdogan cannot afford any distractions. In the run-up to last week’s election, the Turkish leader sought to shift attention to the foreign policy challenges the country faces, going so far as to play the existential threat card. Turkey sentences 24 people to life in prison for attempted coup All that has been rendered moot by Imamoglu’s big win. Erdogan now faces a gathering storm of his own making. The results of the local elections, now complete with the rerun of the Istanbul vote, leave him at the mercy of the actors he has condemned for so long: the secular opposition and the Kurds at home, and foreign investors and Washington abroad. He may be at his wits’ end. For close to a decade, Erdogan has been unchallenged in Turkey, so much so that he harboured ambitions of becoming the leader of the Muslim world. But in doing so, he has resorted to autocratic means. His economic policies, dubbed “Erdoganomics”, have proved disastrous. His stifling of opposition voices and an unrelenting crackdown on opponents have bottled up Turkish democracy. Ordering a rerun of the Istanbul mayoral election might prove to be the last straw. Erdogan has always sought legitimacy via the ballot box, assuring anyone who would listen that elections reflect the true will of the people and insisting that the process is clean. In prodding the High Election Council to call for the rerun, however, Erdogan stepped down off his own high horse. By a landslide margin, Istanbul’s voters have delivered their verdict. ■ Serkan Yolacan is a research fellow at the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore.