Turkey’s opposition scores big in 2024 municipal elections, dealing blow to Erdogan

ANKARA — In a surprisingly lopsided result, Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, CHP), secured victories in key cities and made significant gains across the country in Sunday’s local elections. The outcome dealt a significant blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ambitions of reclaiming control over urban areas.

With over 90% of the votes counted, incumbent Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu of the CHP held a commanding lead in Turkey’s largest city and economic hub, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. Similarly, Mansur Yavas, the incumbent mayor of Ankara, retained his seat with a remarkable 25-point difference over his opponent.

The CHP emerged victorious in 36 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, marking significant inroads into territories previously dominated by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP). Nationally, the CHP garnered 37% of the votes compared to the AKP’s 36%, marking the opposition’s greatest electoral success since Erdogan ascended to power two decades ago.

In a speech delivered from the presidential palace balcony, Erdogan acknowledged the setback, referring to it as “a loss of altitude” for his party. He vowed to analyze the message delivered by the electorate and undertake necessary self-criticism to address shortcomings.

The municipal elections, viewed as a barometer of Erdogan’s popularity, saw the opposition consolidating its hold over key urban areas, including Istanbul and Ankara, which Erdogan had sought to recapture. The CHP’s victories in these cities in 2019 had previously shattered Erdogan’s aura of invincibility.

Ozgur Ozel, the leader of the CHP, hailed the election results as indicative of a desire among voters to establish a new political order in Turkey. Meanwhile, supporters celebrated outside Ankara City Hall, chanting slogans in support of Yavas’ victory.

Analysts attributed the opposition’s success to voter dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of the economy, particularly concerning skyrocketing inflation that has burdened Turkish households.

The election also saw the emergence of the New Welfare Party (YRP), a new religious-conservative party that appears to have drawn support from disillusioned AKP supporters.

However, challenges remain in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish-populated southeast, where the Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (Halkların Eşitlik ve Demokrasi Partisi, DEM) was projected to win several municipalities. The fate of these victories, however, remains uncertain, given Erdogan’s past actions of removing duly elected officials in the southeast over supposed links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê, PKK).

The outcome of the municipal elections has positioned Ekrem Imamoglu as a potential leader of the opposition, with analysts suggesting he could challenge Erdogan in the 2028 presidential elections. Erdogan’s longstanding advocacy for a new constitution reflecting conservative values has faced renewed scrutiny in light of the opposition’s electoral gains.

As Turkey grapples with the aftermath of the municipal elections, the political landscape appears to be shifting, signaling potential challenges ahead for Erdogan and his ruling party.