Turkey local elections: Opposition claims big city wins in blow to Erdogan

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu hails victory in blow to Turkish president’s standing after two decades in power.

Turkey's Republican People’s Party claimed victory in 36 of Turkey's 81 provinces in local elections, according to state-run Anadolu Agency [Ali Unal/AP]

Turkey’s main opposition party has claimed victory in Istanbul and Ankara in local elections, inflicting the biggest defeat on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in more than two decades.

With more than 95 percent of ballot boxes opened in Istanbul on Sunday, Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) said he had defeated the governing AK Party candidate by more than one million votes.

“Those who do not understand the nation’s message will eventually lose,” Imamoglu, a former businessman, told thousands of supporters late on Sunday.

“Tonight, 16 million Istanbul citizens sent a message to both our rivals and the president.”

In the capital, Ankara, CHP’s Mayor Mansur Yavas claimed victory over his rival, hailing the result as a “clear message to those who rule this country”.

The CHP was also ahead in Izmir, Turkey’s third city.

In total, CHP prevailed in 36 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, state-run Anadolu Agency reported, making inroads into many AK Party strongholds.

Opposition supporters gathered in Istanbul to celebrate the results, with tens of thousands of people lighting torches and waving Turkish flags.

In a speech delivered from the balcony of the presidential palace, Erdogan, who has governed Turkey since 2002, acknowledged that his party had “lost altitude” across the country and said he would self-reflect and rectify any mistakes.

“We will correct our mistakes and redress our shortcomings,” he said.

In previous local elections in 2019, Imamoglu won Istanbul’s mayoral race, dealing Erdogan and the AK Party their biggest electoral blow until that point. That defeat also struck a personal note for Erdogan, who was born and raised in the city and served as its mayor in the 1990s.

Sunday’s local elections represent a new blow to the president who had set his sights on retaking control of those urban areas.

Some 61 million people were eligible to vote for mayors across Turkey’s 81 provinces as well as provincial council members and other local officials on Sunday.

The nationwide local elections were seen by analysts and civilians as a gauge of both Erdogan’s support and the opposition’s durability amid skyrocketing inflation and the crumbling of the Turkish currency against the dollar.

Sinan Ulgen, director of the Istanbul-based Edam think tank, told The Associated Press news agency that “the surprising outcome” was the result of voters wanting to punish the governing party over the state of the economy and described the elections as a “watershed for Imamoglu”.

“He will emerge as the natural candidate of the opposition for the next round of presidential elections,” Ulgen said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies