Turkish local elections: The opposition stuns Erdogan with a historic victory

  • Written by Paul Kirby and Kagil Kasapoglu
  • In London and Istanbul

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Opposition supporters in Istanbul and other cities celebrated as the scale of the victory became clear

Turkey's main opposition party won major election victories in the major cities of Istanbul and Ankara.

The results represent a major blow to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had hoped to regain control of the cities less than a year after winning a third term as president.

He led the victory campaign in Istanbul, where he grew up, and served as mayor of the city.

But Ekrem Imamoglu, who won the city for the first time in 2019, scored a second victory for the secular opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).

Erdogan promised a new era in Turkey's city of about 16 million people, but the current mayor of Istanbul was on track to win more than 50% of the vote, more than 10 points ahead of the president's Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate.

This was also the first time since Erdogan came to power 21 years ago that his party was defeated across the country at the polls.

In the capital, Ankara, opposition mayor Mansur Yavaş was so far ahead of his rival with 59% that he declared victory when less than half of the votes had been counted. Supporters closed all main roads in the city, waved flags and honked their car horns.

It is worth noting that the CHP was also on track to win in several other major cities in Turkey, including Izmir, Bursa, Adana and the resort town of Antalya.

President Erdogan (70 years old) admitted that the elections did not go as he had hoped, but he told his supporters in Ankara that they “will not represent the end for us, but rather a turning point.”

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President Erdogan promised his supporters that his party would learn its lessons from the defeat

He has always relied on the “will of the people” for his power, and he told his supporters that he would now respect voters, too.

During the election campaign, Erdogan said that this would be his last, because his presidential term ends in 2028.

But his critics believe the victory would have encouraged him to review the constitution so he could run again. After such a dramatic defeat, it seems extremely unlikely.

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Ekrem Imamoglu won Istanbul from the opposition in 2019

By contrast, the result was a major success for CHP leader Ozgur Ozil, who praised voters for deciding to change the face of Turkey in a historic vote: “They want to open the door to a new political climate in our country.” “.

Crowds gathered in Istanbul outside Saracane City Hall, one of Istanbul's oldest neighbourhoods.

They waved Turkish flags and banners bearing a picture of Ekrem Imamoglu alongside Turkey's founding father Kemal Ataturk, whose poster was hung on the walls of the local authority building.

“I can say that our citizens’ trust and faith in us have been rewarded,” Imamoglu said.

He and Mansur Yavaş are considered potential candidates to run for president in 2028.

Imamoglu's supporters chanted “Everything will be fine” as they danced to drums and clarinet in Saracane, one of Istanbul's oldest neighbourhoods.

The current mayor of Istanbul used this slogan for the first time when he won the city from Erdogan's party five years ago. Some signs in Sarachan used its current slogan, “Full Speed ​​Forward.”

Imamoglu's supporter, Yesim Albayrak, 25, told the BBC: “It's just a local election, but the opposition's victory in the big cities is a big show of strength against the ruling party.”

Mehmet Pankashi, 27, told the BBC that there was a need for change in Turkey: “If Imamoglu or Mansur Yavaş had been the CHP candidate in last year’s presidential elections, they would have definitely won.”

Istanbul hosts a fifth of Türkiye's population of about 85 million people. Rule the city and you will control much of Turkey's economy including trade, tourism, and finance.

Five years ago, Imamoglu overthrew years of AKP rule in Istanbul with the support of other opposition parties. But opposition unity collapsed following last year's presidential election defeat, and the AKP had high hopes of overturning its 2019 victory.

Before Sunday's election, the votes were seen as very close, with a strong challenge from AKP candidate Murat Kurum.

But the ruling party was unable to get rid of the economic crisis that saw inflation rates rise to 67% and interest rates to 50%.

While large swaths of western, southern and northern Turkey are now under the control of the opposition Republican People's Party, the pro-Kurdish Democratic Party has won control of much of the southeast.

Erdogan's Justice and Development Party continues to control central Turkey and has achieved more success in areas of the southeast devastated by the double earthquake of February 2023, including the cities of Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep.

Speaking from the balcony of his party headquarters in Ankara, he promised to use the four years leading up to the next presidential elections to “renew ourselves and make up for our mistakes.”

His supporters chanted: “Stand still, this nation is with you.”

About 61 million Turks are eligible to participate in Sunday's elections, and more than a million young voters cast their ballots for the first time. Participation was estimated at more than 77% across the country's 81 provinces.

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