Erdoğan loses ground in Turkey’s big cities in local polls

Opposition wins Ankara mayoral race and takes a narrow lead in Istanbul

Published - April 01, 2019 10:19 pm IST - Istanbul

Supporters of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) wave flags and light up torches to celebrate the local election in Istanbul, Turkey on 1 April 2019.

Supporters of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) wave flags and light up torches to celebrate the local election in Istanbul, Turkey on 1 April 2019.

Turkey’s Opposition dealt President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a symbolic blow by gaining ground in key cities in the country’s local elections.

The Opposition won the capital, Ankara, a ruling party stronghold for decades, and was leading a tight race for Mayor in Istanbul, according to unofficial figures on Monday. The leader, who has dominated Turkish politics for 16 years, declared victory despite the Opposition gains.

Sunday’s local elections were widely seen as a gauge of support for Mr. Erdoğan as the nation of 81 million faces a daunting economic recession with double-digit inflation, rising food prices and high unemployment. It was also a first test for Mr. Erdoğan, who has been accused of increasingly authoritarian tendencies since stepping last year into a new presidential role with widely expanded powers.

Behlul Ozkan, an associate professor at Marmara University, said Mr. Erdoğan’s loss of ground in Ankara and Istanbul indicated that his socially conservative and construction-driven policies no longer resonated in the cosmopolitan cities.

‘Hegemony over’

“Political Islam’s quarter-century old hegemony in Turkey’s two largest cities is over,” he said. “The basic problem is that Mr. Erdoğan is not able to get votes from middle-income earners who believe that the economy, education and urban administration are not run well.”

More than 57 million people were eligible to vote for the Mayors of 30 major cities, 51 provincial capitals and 922 districts in Turkey. The election was marred by sporadic violence, with five dead and scores injured across Turkey.

Even with 99% of the votes counted, ballot counts were still under way on Monday in the tight race for Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city and commercial hub.

Unofficial results reported by the state-run Anadolu news agency showed the Opposition at 48.8% support to the ruling party’s 48.5% support. Ekrem İmamoğlu, the Opposition candidate in an alliance led by the secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, declared that he won Istanbul but his rival, former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım of the ruling party, said it was still too early to call.

Mr. Yıldırım accepted that his rival was leading by some 25,000 votes but said his party would file an objection, suggesting a recount of the 3,19,500 votes declared void in Istanbul.

“Whoever receives the mandate from the electoral board will be Mayor,” said Mr. Yıldırım.

Both Ankara and Istanbul have been held by Mr. Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party and its Islamic-oriented predecessor for 25 years. Mr. Erdoğan’s own ascent to power began as Istanbul Mayor in 1994.

Unofficial results showed Mansur Yavaş, the candidate of the CHP-led alliance, winning the top post in Ankara with 50.9% support. The AKP still holds a majority of Ankara’s 25 districts.

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