Turkey’s Opposition Secures Key Cities in Local Elections, Challenging Erdogan’s Grip on Power

Race on as Turkey elections test Erdogan’s popularity…

Turkey’s primary opposition party has maintained its grip on key cities and secured substantial advances in other areas during Sunday’s local elections, dealing a significant blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ambitions of regaining control over those urban centers.

With over 90% of the vote counted, incumbent Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, representing the Republican People’s Party (CHP), held a considerable lead in Turkey’s largest city and economic hub, as reported by the state-run Anadolu Agency. Similarly, Mansur Yavas, the mayor of the capital city, Ankara, comfortably retained his position with a commanding 25-point lead over his challenger.

In total, the CHP secured victory in the municipalities of 36 out of Turkey’s 81 provinces, according to Anadolu, making significant inroads into territories traditionally dominated by Erdogan’s party. Nationally, the CHP garnered 37% of the votes compared to the president’s party’s 36%, marking the CHP’s most substantial electoral triumph since Erdogan’s ascent to power twenty years ago.

In response to the electoral setback, Erdogan conceded during a speech from the presidential palace balcony, acknowledging his party’s decline across Turkey. He described the outcome as a “message” from the people that his party needs to reflect upon through “courageous” self-critique. Erdogan pledged to address shortcomings and implement corrective measures while reaffirming his commitment to an economic program aimed at tackling inflation.

Turkey's Opposition Secures Key Cities in Local Elections, Challenging Erdogan's Grip on Power
Turkey’s Opposition Secures Key Cities in Local Elections, Challenging Erdogan’s Grip on Power (Credits: Al Jazeera)

The local elections were widely perceived as a litmus test of Erdogan’s popularity as he endeavored to regain control of key urban areas lost to the opposition in the previous elections five years ago. The CHP’s victories in Ankara and Istanbul in 2019 had undermined Erdogan’s once unassailable position.

Istanbul, in particular, represented a crucial battleground for the 70-year-old Turkish president, given its significance as both his birthplace and the launchpad for his political career as mayor in 1994.

The election results provided a morale boost for the opposition, which had been disheartened and divided following defeat in last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

CHP leader Ozgur Ozel hailed the outcome as indicative of a desire among voters to establish a new political order in Turkey, while a jubilant crowd gathered outside Ankara City Hall to celebrate Yavas’ victory, chanting “Ankara is proud of you!”

Sinan Ulgen, director of the Istanbul-based Edam think tank, attributed the surprising outcome to voters’ desire to penalize the ruling party over the deepening economic woes, with skyrocketing inflation placing significant strain on Turkish households.

He noted a noticeable shift in voter behavior, with AKP supporters either abstaining or diverting their votes to other parties, reflecting a prioritization of economic concerns over ideological loyalties.

Turkey's Opposition Secures Key Cities in Local Elections, Challenging Erdogan's Grip on Power
Turkey’s Opposition Secures Key Cities in Local Elections, Challenging Erdogan’s Grip on Power (Credits: Reuters)

Despite the generally smooth conduct of the elections, isolated incidents of violence were reported in some regions, resulting in casualties. Nevertheless, overall turnout stood at around 76%, a decline from the previous year.

Imamoglu, reflecting on his victory in Istanbul, emphasized the importance of citizens’ trust and faith in their elected representatives.

Imamoglu’s win in Istanbul, along with the CHP’s broader success in the elections, positions him as a potential opposition leader poised to challenge Erdogan in the next presidential elections.

Additionally, the emergence of the New Welfare Party (YRP), appealing to disillusioned AKP supporters, suggests shifting political dynamics within Turkey.

In the predominantly Kurdish southeast, the Democratic Society Party (DEM) appeared poised for success, though questions remain regarding the retention of these municipalities due to past government interventions.

Analysts speculate that Erdogan’s thwarted ambitions in these elections may prompt him to intensify efforts toward drafting a new constitution, reflective of his conservative values, potentially extending his rule beyond 2028.

Following these local elections, Erdogan, a dominant figure in Turkish politics for more than twenty years, and an advocate for a new constitution highlighting family values, confronts a changing political terrain.

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