Turkey’s opposition party sweeps to local elections victory in snub to Erdoğan | Turkey

Turkey’s main opposition party dealt an unexpected blow to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule on Sunday with a sweeping victory in Turkey’s local elections, maintaining control of major cities including the capital, Ankara, and Istanbul, where Ekrem Imamoğlu secured a second term as mayor.

“My dear Istanbulites, you opened the door to a new future today,” Imamoğlu told overjoyed supporters of his opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) while declaring victory. “Starting from tomorrow, Turkey will be a different Turkey. You opened the door to the rise of democracy, equality and freedom … You ignited hope at the ballot box.”

Favourable turnout continued benefit the opposition as the night wore on, and the CHP secured control of a broad swath of western Turkey and scored wins across more conservative regions next to the Black Sea and central Anatolia, areas traditionally seen as hostile to its policies.

The results quickly became symbolic of dissatisfaction with Erdoğan, who began rallying his supporters to turn out in local elections immediately after winning the presidency last year.

Erdoğan was at the forefront of his party’s campaign to retake Istanbul, holding rallies in the city in the week before the vote and attending prayers at the symbolic Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul the night prior to the ballot.

“These election results show that voters decided to establish a new politics in Turkey,” said the head of the CHP, Özgür Özel, addressing the public with tears in his eyes.

In a muted speech to a subdued crowd outside his party’s headquarters in Ankara, Erdoğan praised the vote itself rather than the outcome. “Regardless of the results, the winner of this election is primarily democracy,” he said.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the result we wanted in local elections … Everything happens for a reason. We will rebuild trust in places where our nation has chosen someone else.”

Erdoğan addressed most of his comments to the crowd, telling them at one point: “I am madly in love with you.”

Imamoğlu, the star of Turkey’s opposition, beat his rival, Murat Kurum, a former bureaucrat and environment minister from Erdoğan’s Justice and Development party (AKP), by a significant margin in Turkey’s largest city, where his mayorship has become a thorn in the side of the Turkish president. With a majority of votes counted, the Istanbul mayor was on course to beat Kurum by 10%.

Across Istanbul, drivers honked car horns in celebration, while videos showed jubilant people tearing down a poster featuring Kurum’s face.

“These results will put Imamoğlu and the CHP at the centre of Turkish politics,” said Yusuf Can, an analyst with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

Erdoğan demanded a rerun of Imamoğlu’s initial election victory in 2019, leading to a resounding second win for the opposition mayor. The result vaulted him from a minor municipal official to a role as the main challenger to Erdoğan’s rule. His second resounding victory is expected to set Imamoğlu on the path to a presidential run.

The mayor’s campaign for a second term proved challenging. Election insiders estimated that Erdoğan’s AKP outspent Imamoğlu and the CHP by a factor of three in Istanbul, the country’s financial and cultural centre, where Erdoğan occupied the position of mayor 30 years ago.

Despite Erdoğan’s name not appearing on the ballot, voters across the country seized the opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with his policies, many citing Turkey’s struggling economy as their motivation for voting for the opposition or a rising collection of smaller parties further to the right than the AKP.

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“It’s a resounding message,” said Selim Sazak, the head of Sanda Global, an Ankara-based consultancy that advised several campaigns during the local election cycle. “The voters are telling the government that the economy is really hurting them.”

Their message, he added, was that either Imamoğlu or Ankara’s mayor, Mansur Yavaș, could have turned out a similar sweeping victory for the opposition if the CHP had selected them as presidential candidates last year.

The AKP selected the former environment minister Murat Kurum, born and raised in Ankara, to challenge the charismatic Istanbul mayor for a seat that Erdoğan held from 1994 to 1998, only furthering the impression that Erdoğan sought to bring Istanbul back within the central government’s sphere of influence.

However, some of Kurum’s recent jabs at İmamoğlu backfired, notably his decision to tell the latter that he should “go and manage a meatball shop”, in reference to a popular Turkish staple.

Imamoğlu made plenty of use of Kurum’s comments on the campaign trail as evidence that his challenger was out of touch with the average Istanbulite, telling a crowd of supporters: “Do you know why I love this election? Both the meatball maker and the minister are equal [at the ballot box].”

Erdoğan’s efforts to place himself at the forefront of the fight to retake Istanbul also backfired with many of its residents. Turkey has been plagued by an economic crisis linked to his policies, one that has hit the populations of major cities the hardest.

“That son of a bitch raised inflation himself. That’s enough,” said one voter, Burhan, who asked that his family name be withheld. He said he had previously voted for the AKP but opted for Imamoğlu this time as he remained unhappy about the lack of economic progress since Erdoğan’s victory last year.

After winning re-election, Erdoğan appointed a new finance minister and central bank governor, who introduced reforms and austerity measures that some observers considered essential, but which left much of the public worse off as inflation continued to rise.

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