Voters in Turkey hand Erdogan thundering defeat in watershed local election

Opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) supporters celebrate outside the main municipality building following municipal elections across Turkey, in Istanbul on March 31, 2024. (YASIN AKGUL / AFP)
Opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) supporters celebrate outside the main municipality building following municipal elections across Turkey, in Istanbul on March 31, 2024. (YASIN AKGUL / AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is licking his wounds after voters dealt him and his party their biggest electoral blow in a nationwide local vote that reasserted the opposition as a political force and reinforced Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu as the president’s chief rival.

With most of the votes counted, Imamoglu led by 10 percentage points in the mayoral race in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, while his Republican People’s Party (CHP) retained Ankara and gained 15 other mayoral seats in cities nationwide.

It marked the worst defeat for Erdogan and his AK Party (AKP) in their more than two decades in power, and could signal a change in the country’s divided political landscape.

In a post-midnight address, Erdogan called the resounding defeat a “turning point.”

He tells crowds gathered at AKP headquarters in Ankara that his alliance had “lost altitude” across the nation and will take steps to address the message from voters.

“If we made a mistake, we will fix it” in the years ahead, he said. “If we have anything missing, we will complete it.”

Erdogan, who in the 1990s was also mayor of his hometown Istanbul, had campaigned hard ahead of the municipal elections, which analysts described as a gauge of both his support and the opposition’s durability.

Istanbul Mayor and Republican People’s Party, or CHP, candidate Ekrem Imamoglu addresses supporters outside the City Hall in Istanbul, Turkey, early Monday, April 1, 2024.(AP/Khalil Hamra)

The results represent an even worse showing than losses that had been predicted by opinion polls due to soaring inflation, dissatisfied Islamist voters and, in Istanbul, Imamoglu’s appeal beyond the CHP’s secular base, analysts say.

“Those who do not understand the nation’s message will eventually lose,” Imamoglu, 53, tells thousands of jubilant supporters, some of them chanting for Erdogan to resign.

“Tonight, 16 million Istanbul citizens sent a message to both our rivals and the president,” said the former businessman, who is now widely touted as a likely presidential challenger.

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