Step by step over the years, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey sought to ensure nobody could challenge him. He marginalized adversaries. He purged the army, the police and the courts. He cowed the press. He strengthened his powers in the Constitution. And he promised Turks a bright economic future.
So it was a huge surprise when the outcome of weekend municipal voting showed on Monday that Mr. Erdogan's party had not only lost control of Ankara, the political center, but maybe Istanbul, the country's commercial center, his home city and longstanding core of support. Even if the results were not final, they amounted to the most momentous political earthquake to shake Mr. Erdogan in nearly two decades of basically uncontested control at the helm of Turkey, a NATO ally and critical linchpin of stability in the region.
What was different this time was the rapidly tanking economy and a highly disciplined opposition. It deployed monitors to not only scrutinize the vote tallies but also sleep on sacks of sealed counted ballots to guard against possible tampering by members of Mr. Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP. "We think they were not able to rig the election," said Ilayda Kocoglu, 28, vice president of the Istanbul branch of the opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, who slept on some sacks herself. "They were not expecting us to be that organized, or that resolved."
The results do not mean that Mr. Erdogan, whose term as president lasts for four more years, will change his behavior, which includes promoting Islamic religious values over secularism, closer ties to Russia and chillier relations with NATO. But the election showed Mr. Erdogan has weaknesses. "It's a catastrophe for him," said Asli Aydintasbas, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. "We now know he is not invincible."
See also: Erdogan's AK Party challenges Istanbul, Ankara poll results [aljazeera.com]
Turkish voters send a clear message to Erdogan: Enough [washingtonpost.com]
Has Erdogan's Populism Reached Its Limits? [nytimes.com]