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1 апреля 2024
Paolo Sorbello. Photo: screenshot from Deutsche Welle's YouTube channel

Turkey’s Ruling Party Suffers Defeat in Local Elections

CHP, the main opposition party, made large and unexpected gains on Sunday

Turkey’s Ruling Party Suffers Defeat in Local Elections

Ekrem Imamoglu, the leader of the opposition CHP party and mayor of Istanbul, won the mayoral race in Turkey’s largest city and his party conquered several cities and provinces in what represented the worst AK Party defeat since coming to power in 2001.

In an address to the nation, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the election a “turning point”, while Imamoglu argued that “our citizens’ trust in us, their faith in us paid off”.

What was at stake? Around 61 million residents of Turkey were called to the polls to elect their mayors and provincial governors. Despite it being a local election, analysts said it showed a changing sentiment towards the long-standing ruling party. Erdogan’s presidential term ends in 2028, when he will turn 74.

What does this mean for Erdogan? A general election last year had confirmed Erdogan as the president for a third consecutive term, but the incumbent needed a run-off round for the first time to win against the CHP adversary, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. The opposition’s win will now potentially soften the AK Party’s conservative drive and make a much-feared constitutional change vastly unpopular.

How did this happen? The CHP, which was originally founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the “father of modern Turkey”, had regained popularity in the past few years, after losing to the AK Party in the early 2000s. Its leader, Imamoglu, a businessman, entered politics with CHP in 2008 and won the mayoral race in Istanbul in 2019, which then represented a major blow to Erdogan, who once served as mayor in Turkey’s city of 16 million.

Analysts also said that the New Welfare Party, a new hardline religious group, could have garnered some of the votes that the AK Party lost, signaling a further political polarization in the country.

“A surprising outcome.” While it was a clear sign that voters wanted to punish the ruling party due to the ongoing economic malaise, according to Sinan Ulgen, director of the Istanbul-based Edam think tank, this was “a surprising outcome”, he told the AP, as it went even beyond the CHP’s most optimistic expectations.