Opposition secures major victories in Turkey’s local elections, dealing blow to Erdogan

Turkey
Turkey's local elections,

ANKARA: In a significant blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, the main opposition party secured substantial victories in Sunday’s local elections, maintaining control over crucial cities and making substantial gains elsewhere, according to preliminary results, The Washington Post reported.

The results showcased the Republican People’s Party (CHP) retaining its grip on key urban areas, dealing a setback to Erdogan’s ambitions of reclaiming control over these pivotal territories.

With nearly 60 per cent of the ballot boxes tallied, incumbent Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu of the CHP led the race in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city and economic nucleus, The Washington Post reported, citing, state broadcaster TRT.

Similarly, Mansur Yavas, the incumbent mayor of Ankara, clinched victory by a considerable margin, according to preliminary results.

The CHP was ahead in 36 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, The Washington Post reported, citing, results shown by TRT.

This electoral showdown was viewed as a barometer for President Erdogan’s popularity, as he aimed to recapture territories lost to the opposition in the elections five years ago. The CHP’s previous victories in Ankara and Istanbul in 2019 had punctured Erdogan’s aura of invincibility.

The focal point of the electoral battle was Istanbul, a city of 16 million people, where Erdogan commenced his political journey as mayor in 1994. The outcome served as a testament to the electorate’s desire for change and represented a substantial boost for the opposition, which had grappled with division and demoralisation following last year’s electoral defeats.

“The voters decided to establish a new political order in Turkey,” said CHP leader Ozgur Ozel to a jubilant crowd of supporters. “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.”

In Ankara, a jubilant crowd congregated outside City Hall to celebrate Yavas’ resounding victory, chanting slogans of pride for their mayor, “Ankara is proud of you!”

Sinan Ulgen, director of the Istanbul-based Edam think tank, said “the surprising outcome” was voters’ desire to penalise the ruling party for the depth of economic turmoil gripping the nation. Mounting inflationary pressures have rendered basic commodities unaffordable for many Turkish households.

“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.”

Approximately 61 million individuals, which included over a million newly eligible voters, were eligible to participate in the elections for metropolitan municipalities, town and district mayorships, as well as neighbourhood administrations.

The Washington Post reported that voter turnout, citing the state-operated Anadolu Agency, stood at approximately 76 per cent, a decrease from the 87 per cent recorded in the previous year.

Despite a substantial security presence comprising 5,94,000 personnel across the nation, sporadic incidents marred the otherwise peaceful electoral process. In Diyarbakir, a dispute over the election of a neighbourhood administrator escalated into violence, resulting in one fatality and multiple injuries. Similar clashes erupted in the province of Sanliurfa, leaving several individuals wounded.

“According to the data we have obtained, it seems our citizens’ trust in us, their faith in us has paid off,” Imamoglu said.

Preliminary results indicated Imamoglu secured approximately 50 per cent of the votes in Istanbul, while AKP’s candidate, Murat Kurum, trailed with 41 per cent, as reported by TRT.

Imamoglu, a charismatic figure widely touted as a potential challenger to Erdogan’s dominance, ran independently of some parties that supported him in his previous victory in 2019. Notably, both the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party and the nationalist IYI Party fielded their own candidates in this election, signalling a fractured opposition landscape.

The disintegration of a six-party opposition alliance following its failure to unseat Erdogan in the previous year’s elections underscored the challenges facing the opposition. Despite opportunities presented by economic woes and the government’s inadequate response to crises such as last year’s devastating earthquake, the opposition failed to capitalise effectively.

Ulgen highlighted the pivotal role assumed by Imamoglu in the opposition, positioning him as a formidable contender for the presidency in the 2028 elections. “This outcome has certainly been a watershed for Imamoglu,” he said, adding, “He will emerge as the natural candidate of the opposition for the next round of presidential elections.”

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

In Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish-populated southeast, the Democratic Regions Party (DEM) appeared poised to secure numerous municipalities, albeit amid uncertainties regarding their ability to retain power. Erdogan’s government has previously ousted elected pro-Kurdish mayors over alleged links to Kurdish militants, replacing them with state-appointed trustees.

Analysts speculated that a robust showing by Erdogan’s party would have bolstered his resolve to institute a new constitution aligning with his conservative values, potentially extending his tenure beyond 2028, when his current term concludes.

Throughout his more than two-decade-long tenure, first as prime minister since 2003 and subsequently as president since 2014, Erdogan has championed the advocacy for a new constitution emphasising family values and reflecting his political ethos, The Washington Post reported. (ANI)

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