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'Everything will be fine': Hashtag campaign seeks to buoy opposition ahead of Istanbul repeat vote

Although brimming with optimism at the outset, supporters of Ekrem Imamoglu face a gruelling month-long campaign
Protesters hold a placard that reads 'everything will be fine' during a demonstration in Istanbul, on 8 May 2019 (AFP)

As anger and fear mounts over the announcement of a re-run of mayoral elections in Istanbul, celebrities, musicians, artists and politicians have taken to social media to push the message to supporters of the first-time winner Ekrem Imamoglu that "everything will be fine".

With the new polls set for 23 June, supporters of the Republican People's Party (CHP) candidate need to keep together a voter coalition comprising both the CHP's secular-nationalist base as well as Kurds and religious conservatives who have long been suspicious of the party.

A hashtag based on a slogan by Imamoglu has driven the new campaign: #HerSeyCokGuzelOlacak, which has been roughly translated as "Everything will be fine".

An eclectic array of public personalities, including many non-Turks, have tweeted out the hashtag. Among the most unusual were Star Wars actor Mark Hamill and graphic novelist Neil Gaiman, who both tweeted in response to request from Turks on Twitter.

Turkish pop star Tarkan, who has 3.5m followers on Twitter, saw his post in support of Imamoglu retweeted more than 50,000 times.

"I couldn't get a wink of sleep yesterday but in the morning the light that rose from the horizon was brighter than usual. I have seen that #everythingwillbefine," Tarkan tweeted.

When asked on Friday about the use of the hashtag by celebrities, Binali Yildirim - mayoral candidate for the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Istanbul - warned that "it will not help your artistic careers much".

Official state accounts have been at it too.

The opposition-controlled municipality of Bodrum, a popular destination for holidaymakers in the summer, joked that, due to snowfall, the beaches would be closed on 23 June - an attempt to encourage Istanbulites to stay home and vote.

"We advise you to enjoy the sun that will rise in Istanbul on the same day. But we will be waiting for everyone from June 24 because #everythingwillbefine," they said.

Free advertising such as the hashtag campaign is clearly a boon for the CHP, who are struggling to raise the finances for a brand new election campaign.

According to Bulent Kusuoglu, CHP vice chair, his party is not eligible for financial support from the treasury because the election will be a re-run.

"Voting in Turkey is a costly business. Our people support this, it will be very precious and everything will be fine," he explained.

On Thursday, the CHP established an online platform for the party's supporters to donate and help fund the new campaign.

Protesters hold placards and chant slogans during a demonstration in Istanbul, on 8 May 2019 (AFP)

The CHP faces an uphill struggle.

"Everything will be fine" derived from a the first campaign which was notably focused on positivity and shied away from much of the belligerence often characterising Turkish politics.

But not everyone in the party has been supportive of the unbridled optimism circulating on social media.

Ates Ilyas Bassoy, the CHP campaign manager who was largely responsible for promoting positivity and "radical love" as a strategy in the first Istanbul election, on Tuesday posted an image of a wall on Facebook reading "everything will be very difficult" and called on Imamoglu supporters to drop the "exaggerated festive atmosphere".

"Now it's time to study and win hearts," he wrote, warning supporters not to get trapped in an "echo chamber".

"Everything will be fine after 23 June, but I assure you everything will be very difficult until that day," he said.

Reassuring the base

At present, the main concern for the CHP is reassuring its base that it won't fold under the pressure, argued Michael Sercan Daventry, editor of political analysis site "James in Turkey".

In past elections where CHP supporters have alleged their side lost due to electoral fraud, there has been a perception that the leadership has been only too willing to concede to the ruling AKP.

The presidential election of 24 June 2018 was a particularly sore point. After a hard fought campaign, Muharram Ince disappeared on election night as it appeared President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had won, and then conceded that his opponent had won fair and square - something which some CHP supporters fiercely disputed.

The "everything will be fine" drive is "a public reassurance campaign, essentially," Daventry told MEE.

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"For now they’re speaking to their own base. So many times before when there has been disappointment in Turkish elections, it’s always been that the system has stolen the result and they’ve found that the CHP hasn’t been supporting them."

A poll released by the MAK polling company on Thursday suggested that 79 percent of people in Istanbul had already decided who they will vote for, and the majority were AKP voters. It also suggested a higher potential turnout than the previous vote.

Leaving aside any other extraneous factors, the main difficulty for the AKP will be convincing enough of those who voted for Imamoglu to switch back to Yildirim.

Most of the campaigning in the previous vote was dominated by Erdogan, a far more visible and popular figure than Yildirim, but it is possible that this time around he may have miscalculated.

"We’re in Ramadan now and, my instinct tells me it's going to be one of the biggest mistakes Erdogan has made, trying to fight an election campaign during the holy month in Islam against a devout Muslim," said Daventry.

"He can’t play to his core strength of 'we are the ones who keep our fast, we are the ones who follow the scriptures' because the CHP’s candidate very clearly does. He can read Arabic, he can pray, he can deliver sermons in mosques, he isn’t the typical CHP enemy that Erdogan has been so effective at targeting in the past."

Erdogan insisted on Saturday that he would not bow to international criticism over his controversial decision to re-run mayoral elections in Istanbul, AFP reported.

"With God's permission, our people will not bow to threats and the pressure," Erdogan said. 

Erdogan's gambit

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the new vote has galvanised Istanbulites.

Firuz Baglikaya, head of the the Association of Turkish Travel Agents, said that around 90 percent of Istanbul holiday makers had cancelled or changed the date of their holidays in order to be present on 23 June.

Both Pegasus and Turkish Airlines also announced they would be offering free refunds to people who wanted to stay in Istanbul for the vote.

For both parties, the vote could end up being decisive and existential.

For the CHP, success in Istanbul restores the party to a position of influence after decades in the wilderness. For the AKP, meanwhile, keeping control of Istanbul means preventing a drip-drip of comments about the beginning of Erdogan's political demise.

"The only really acceptable result for Imamoglu is if he wins by an even greater margin because the margin was, whichever way you look at it, incredibly narrow," said Daventry.

"You can't exaggerate the importance of the celebrities and the hashtags and the rest - but it's the next stage of the campaign that's going to be interesting to watch."