The main opposition party in Turkey has made considerable gains elsewhere and held onto power in important cities during Sunday’s municipal elections, which has severely hampered President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s attempts to regain control of these metropolitan areas.

The Republican People’s Party (CHP)’s incumbent mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, has emerged victorious by a wide margin in Turkey’s largest city and economic center with more than 90% of the votes counted, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. Preliminary results show that Mansur Yavas, the current mayor of Ankara, has easily maintained his position with a commanding 25-point margin over his opponent.

In total, the CHP has secured governance over 36 municipalities out of Turkey’s 81 provinces, according to Anadolu, penetrating deep into territories traditionally held by Erdogan’s party. Nationwide, the CHP garnered 37% of the vote, edging out the president’s party, which obtained 36%, marking the CHP’s most significant electoral triumph since Erdogan’s ascendancy to power two decades ago.

Acknowledging the setback in a speech from the presidential palace balcony, Erdogan conceded that his party had experienced a “downturn” across the country. He acknowledged the electorate’s “message,” signaling a readiness to engage in introspective “self-criticism” and undertake necessary corrections.

In light of the result, Erdogan bemoaned the inability to repeat the triumph from the May 28 elections and emphasized the necessity of making corrections and addressing deficiencies going forward. He reiterated his determination to carry out an economic plan designed to combat inflation.

The elections served as a litmus test for Erdogan’s popularity, particularly as he endeavored to regain control of vital urban territories lost to the opposition five years prior. The CHP’s triumph in Ankara and Istanbul in 2019 had shattered the perception of Erdogan’s invincibility.

Istanbul, in particular, emerged as the focal point of the electoral contest for the 70-year-old Turkish president, being his birthplace and the starting point of his political career as mayor in 1994.

The outcome provided a significant morale boost for the opposition, which had been fractured and disheartened following its defeat to President Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the previous year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

Addressing a jubilant crowd of supporters, CHP leader Ozgur Ozel proclaimed, “The electorate has opted for a new political paradigm in Turkey,” heralding a transformative shift after 22 years and ushering in a fresh political climate.

Crowds of fans gathered outside Ankara City Hall to celebrate Yavas’ victory and shouted, “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 for the severity of the economic downturn. Rampant inflation has left many Turkish households grappling with the affordability of basic necessities. He noted a notable decrease in voter turnout compared to previous elections, with shifts in support across party lines, indicating a prioritization of economic concerns over ideological allegiance.

Approximately 61 million eligible voters, including over a million first-time voters, participated in electing officials for metropolitan municipalities, town and district mayorships, as well as neighborhood administrations. Turnout stood at around 76%, a decline from 87% recorded the previous year.

Despite the deployment of some 594,000 security personnel nationwide to ensure a smooth electoral process, incidents marred the proceedings, including a fatal altercation in Diyarbakir over the election of a neighborhood administrator, resulting in one fatality and 11 injuries. Additionally, clashes erupted in the province of Sanliurfa, leaving at least six individuals wounded.

Expressing gratitude for the electorate’s trust, Ekrem Imamoglu declared, “It appears that our citizens’ confidence and belief in us have been vindicated.”

Imamoglu secured 50.6% of the votes in Istanbul, while AKP candidate Murat Kurum, a former minister of urbanization and environment, garnered 40.5%, according to Anadolu Agency. Pre-election polls had suggested a closely contested race between the two contenders.

Imamoglu, a widely popular figure often touted as a potential future contender against Erdogan, campaigned independently without the backing of some parties that supported him in his 2019 victory. Both the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party and the nationalist IYI Party fielded their own candidates in the election.

Following the failure to dislodge Erdogan in the previous year’s election, a six-party opposition coalition led by the CHP fell apart, unable to capitalize on the economic downturn and the government’s initially inadequate response to the devastating earthquake that claimed over 53,000 lives.

According to Ulgen, this outcome has propelled Imamoglu into a prominent position as a potential leader of the opposition, positioning him to challenge Erdogan for the presidency in 2028. “This result has undoubtedly marked a turning point for Imamoglu,” he remarked. “He is poised to emerge as the natural choice for the opposition in the upcoming presidential elections.”

The emergence of the New Welfare Party (YRP), a new religious-conservative party, appeared to have siphoned votes from disillusioned AKP supporters dissatisfied with the government’s economic policies.

In Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish-populated southeast, the DEM Party seemed poised to secure victory in many municipalities, although uncertainty loomed over whether they would be allowed to retain power. Erdogan’s government has previously ousted elected pro-Kurdish mayors over alleged ties to Kurdish militants, replacing them with state-appointed trustees.

Analysts speculated that a strong performance by Erdogan’s party would have strengthened his resolve to enact a new constitution, one aligning with his conservative principles and potentially extending his rule beyond 2028, when his current term concludes.

Erdogan, who has steered Turkey for more than two decades, first as prime minister since 2003 and then as president since 2014, has advocated for a new constitution emphasizing traditional family values.


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