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Erdogan strikes conciliatory tone in first speech since Istanbul defeat

Party insiders tell MEE that AKP will 'lose more blood' if party fails to learn important lessons from Sunday's defeat
Erdogan, pictured with his wife Emine, after the couple had cast their votes in Istanbul on Sunday (Reuters)
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Ankara

In his first televised appearance since Sunday's Istanbul mayoral election in which his Justice and Development Party (AKP) was dealt a stunning defeat, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan struck a softer tone.

Erdogan, addressing parliament on Tuesday, once again congratulated mayor-elect Ekrem Imamoglu, an opposition politician who was elected with a winning margin not seen in Turkey's economic and cultural capital in 30 years.

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“The decision taken by Istanbul residents has a place above our heads,” Erdogan said, using an idiom to show genuine respect.

“We cannot ignore the messages handed by our nation. We will conduct our own accounting. We will analyse why we couldn’t explain ourselves to the people. We will detect our disconnections, shortcomings and mistakes and we will take the necessary steps accordingly.”

He also promised that his party would make changes in its policies in the coming days by listening to the demands of the nation and focusing on the remaining four years of his current term to undertake key reforms in the economy and defence.

“We will continue to serve uninterrupted, we can achieve anything with love,” he added.

But Erdogan was also defensive about the annulment of the March local election when Imamoglu initially was declared mayor with a mere margin of 13,000 votes. “There were problems that could have had an impact on the election results,” he said.

Erdogan will convene his party leadership later on Tuesday and is expected to debate the results extensively. A cabinet reshuffle is expected later next month, though Erdogan denied that he would make the changes just because some media reports said he would.

Critics within party voice concerns

Several sources close to the AKP told Middle East Eye that critics within the party are already flagging up policies they believe led to the defeat in Istanbul, such as pushing for a repeat election and using polarising language during the campaign period.

“If we cannot get the necessary lessons from the election results, we will lose more blood. And it will embolden the likes of intra-party opponents [former PM] Ahmet Davutoglu and Ali Babacan,” the source said.

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The government-aligned flagship Sabah’s Ankara representative Okan Muderrisoglu, too, penned a harsh column on Tuesday, firing off several criticisms against the party leadership.

“People don’t think it is appropriate for the Turkish President to be a member of a political party,” he said, a change supported by Erdogan in the latest package of constitutional reforms last year.

Muderrisoglu also pointed out the fact that Istanbul residents did not like the allegations of unlawful staffing at polling stations which led to the annulment of the original election in March.

“Voters don’t like to see that suspicions were raised on ballot boxes, polling committees and institutions,” he said.

Others were bolder in their analysis of the current state of Erdogan politics.

Abdulkadir Selvi, a prominent columnist at the Hurriyet daily that is close to the AKP, wrote on Tuesday that voters were expecting sweeping changes in fundamental policies.

“The only thing that doesn’t change is change itself. If you don’t act on and make necessary changes, the people will replace you,” he said.