Turkish election: Opposition stuns Erdogan with historic victory

  • By Paul Kirby & Kagil Kasaboglu
  • in London and Istanbul

image source, REUTERS/Umit Bektas

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As the scale of the victory became clear, opposition supporters celebrated in Istanbul and other cities

Turkey's main opposition party has won elections in major cities such as Istanbul and Ankara.

The results were a significant blow to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had hoped to regain control of the cities within a year of his third term as president.

He led a campaign to win Istanbul, where he grew up to become mayor.

But Ekrem Imamoglu, who first won the city in 2019, secured a second victory for the secular opposition CHP.

Mr Erdogan vowed a new era in Turkey's megacity of around 16 million people, but Istanbul's incumbent mayor won 50% of the vote, 10 points ahead of the president's AK Party candidate.

It was the first time since Mr Erdogan came to power 21 years ago that his party had been defeated at the ballot box nationwide.

In the capital Ankara, opposition mayor Mansour Yavas had a 59% lead over his rival. He declared victory when less than half the votes were cast. Supporters blocked all major roads in the city, waving flags and honking car horns.

Notably, the CHP was also on course to win several major cities in Turkey, including Izmir and the resorts of Bursa, Adana and Antalya.

President Erdogan, 70, admitted the election did not go as he had hoped, but he told supporters in Ankara that it “will not be an end for us, but a turning point”.

image source, Emin Sansar/Anatolu via Getty Images

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President Erdogan assured supporters that his party would learn from the defeat

He has always relied on the “will of the people” for his power, and told supporters he now respects voters.

During the election campaign, Mr Erdogan said this would be his last run as his last presidential term ends in 2028.

But critics hoped the victory would encourage him to revise the constitution so he could stand again. After such a dramatic failure, it was highly unlikely.

image source, Dolka Bosoglu/EPA-EFE

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Ekrem Imamoglu won for the opposition in Istanbul

By contrast, the decision was a big win for CHP leader Ozgur Ozel, who praised voters for deciding to change the face of Turkey in a historic referendum: “They want to open the door to a new political environment in our country. .”

Crowds of people gathered outside the town hall in Saracen, one of Istanbul's oldest districts.

They waved Turkish flags and banners showing a picture of Ekrem Imamoglu with Turkey's founding father Kemal Atatürk.

“I can say that the trust and confidence our citizens have placed in us has been rewarded,” Mr Imamoglu said.

He and Mansoor Yawas are seen as potential candidates for the 2028 presidential race.

“Everything will be alright,” Imamoglu's supporters chanted as they danced to drums and clarinets in Saracen, one of Istanbul's oldest districts.

Istanbul's current mayor first used the slogan five years ago when he won the city from Mr Erdogan's party. Some of the banners at Saracen used his current slogan “Full Speed ​​Forward”.

“They are only local elections, but the opposition's victory in the big cities shows a significant force against the ruling party,” Imamoglu supporter Yeşim Albayrak, 25, told the BBC.

Mehmet Bangazi, 27, told the BBC that Turkey needed change: “If Imamoglu or Mansur Yavas had been the CHP candidate in last year's presidential election, they would have definitely won.”

Istanbul covers one-fifth of Turkey with a population of nearly 85 million. Control the City You control a significant part of Turkey's economy, including trade, tourism and finance.

Five years ago, Mr Imamoglu toppled years of AK Party rule in Istanbul with the support of other opposition parties. But that opposition coalition broke down after last year's presidential election defeat and the AK Party had high hopes of overturning his 2019 victory.

Ahead of Sunday's election, the referendum looked very close to call, with a strong challenge from AK Party candidate Murat Kurum.

But the ruling party could not shake off the economic crisis where the inflation rate was 67% and the interest rate was 50%.

Although vast swathes of Turkey's west, south and north are now under the control of the opposition CHP, the pro-Kurdish Dem Party has captured much of the southeast.

Mr Erdogan's AK Party continues to dominate central Turkey and has won heavily in southeastern regions devastated by the February 2023 twin earthquakes, including the cities of Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep.

Speaking from the balcony of his party headquarters in Ankara, he vowed to use the four years before the next presidential election to “renew ourselves and make up for our mistakes”.

His supporters chanted again: “Stand still, this nation is with you.”

Some 61 million Turks were eligible to take part in Sunday's election and more than a million young voters cast their ballots for the first time. Voter turnout is estimated to be over 77% across the country's 81 provinces.

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