Elections blow for Erdogan as opposition retain cities and make big gains

Turkey’s main opposition party retained its control over key cities and made huge gains elsewhere in Sunday’s local elections, preliminary results showed.

The outcome was a major upset to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had set his sights on retaking control of those urban areas.

With nearly 60% of the ballot boxes counted, incumbent mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, was leading in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city and economic hub, according to state broadcaster TRT.

Mansur Yavas, the mayor of the capital Ankara, retained his seat with a large margin, the results indicated.

Turkey Local Elections
Republican People’s Party supporters gather outside the City Hall in Ankara to celebrate their election success (AP Photo/Ali Unal)

The vote was seen as a barometer of President Erdogan’s popularity as he sought to win back control of key urban areas he lost to the opposition in elections five years ago.

The CHP’s victory in Ankara and Istanbul in 2019, had shattered Mr Erdogan’s aura of invincibility.

The main battleground for the 70-year-old Turkish president was Istanbul, a city of 16 million people where he was born and raised and where he began his political career as mayor in 1994.

The result came as a boost for the opposition, which was left divided and demoralised after a defeat to Mr Erdogan and his ruling Islamic-oriented Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

Turkey Local Elections
Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, right, and his wife, Dilek, cast their votes at a polling station in Istanbul (Huseyin Yavuz/Dia Images via AP)

“Today, the voters decided to change the 22-year-old picture in Turkey and open the door to a new political climate in our country.”

A large crowd, meanwhile, gathered outside Ankara City Hall to celebrate Mr Yavas’ victory. “Ankara is proud of you,” supporters chanted.

Sinan Ulgen, director of the Istanbul-based Edam think tank, said “the surprising outcome” was due to voters wanting to punish the ruling party over the “depth of an economic malaise”.

Turkey Local Elections
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, arrives to vote to a polling station in Istanbul (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

AKP supporters opted to stay away from the ballot stations or voted for other parties, Mr Ulgen said.

“Turnout was relatively low compared to past elections,” he said.

“There were cross-party shifts in the vote, which did not happen in the national elections because of stronger ideological attachments. This time around, the economy prevailed over identity.”

About 61 million people, including more than a million first-time voters, were eligible to cast ballots for all metropolitan municipalities, town and district mayorships as well as neighbourhood administrations.

Turnout was about 76%, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency, compared to 87% last year.

Analysts said a strong showing for Mr Erdogan’s party would have hardened his resolve to usher in a new constitution – one that would reflect his conservative values and allow him to rule beyond 2028 when his current term ends.

Mr Erdogan, who has presided over Turkey for more than two decades – as prime minister since 2003 and president since 2014 – has been advocating for a new constitution that would put family values at the forefront.

Some 594,000 security personnel were on duty across the country to ensure the vote goes smoothly.

Nevertheless, one person was killed and 11 others hurt in the city of Diyarbakir where a dispute over the election of a neighbourhood administrator turned violent, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

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