Turkey’s resurgent opposition knocks Erdogan in pivotal local elections By Reuters

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By Can Sezer and Burcu Karakas

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turks punished President Tayyip Erdogan and his party on Sunday in a national election that reaffirmed the opposition as a political force and solidified Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu as the president’s main rival.

With more than half the votes counted, Imamoglu led by nearly 10 percent in the mayoral race in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, while the Republican People’s Party (CHP) retained Ankara and won nine more seats in major cities across the country.

Analysts said that Erdogan and the AK Party (AKP) – which has ruled Turkey for more than two decades – are doing better than the elections predicted due to the rise in inflation, disaffected Muslim voters and, in Istanbul, the appeal of Imamoglu beyond the base of the CHP.

“The goodwill and trust that our citizens have in us has been shown,” said Imamoglu, 53, a former businessman who entered politics in 2008 and is now seen as a presidential challenger.

In Ankara, the capital, thousands of protesters gathered at night waving CHP flags to speak to CHP Mayor Mansur Yavas, who launched his AKP campaign against Erdogan.

Erdogan campaigned hard ahead of the municipal elections, which pundits described as a sign of his support and the strength of the opposition. The president’s disappointing showing could signal a change in the emerging political landscape.

A few hours after the voting ended, the President traveled to Ankara from Istanbul to address the nation.

According to 79.77% of the ballot boxes opened in Istanbul, the largest city in Europe with more than 16 million people, Imamoglu had the support of 50.53% compared to 40.73% of the AKP opponent Murat Kurum, a former minister in Erdogan’s government. .

Polls predicted a close contest in Istanbul and a loss for the CHP nationwide.

However, other results reported by the state-run Anadolu Agency showed the AKP and its main partner losing mayors in 10 major cities, including Bursa and Balikesir in the northwest.

The CHP is leading the country with about 1% of the vote, the first time in 35 years, the results showed.

Mert Arslanalp, an assistant professor of political science at Istanbul’s Bogazici University, said it was Erdogan’s “heaviest defeat” since he came to power in 2002.

“Imamoglu has shown that he can reach the political and political sectors that define the Turkish electorate even without their support,” he said. “This makes him a very competitive political candidate for the Erdogan government at the national level.”

THE RISE OF IMAMOGLU

In 2019, Imamoglu defeated Erdogan in the elections in his first victory in Istanbul, ending 25 years of rule in the city by the AKP and its Islamist predecessors, including Erdogan who became its mayor in the 1990s. The CHP also won Ankara that year.

The president returned in 2023 by re-establishing the elections and the majority of the parliament and his allies, despite the difficulties of many years.

Analysts said the economic crisis, including nearly 70% inflation and a slowdown in growth caused by austerity measures, led voters to punish the AKP this time.

“Economics is what drove it,” said Hakan Akbas, senior consultant at Albright Stonebridge Group. “The Turkish people wanted change and Imamoglu is now an enemy of President Erdogan.”

Supporters waving flags in front of the Istanbul Municipality building said they want to see Imamoglu challenge Erdogan for the presidency in the future.

“We are very happy. I love him very much. We want to see him as president,” said Esra, a housewife.

The increase in popular support for the Islamist New Welfare Party, which took a stronger stance than Erdogan against Israel in the Gaza war, also reduced the AKP’s support. The party took Sanliurfa from the AKP in the southeast.

Imamoglu was re-elected despite the collapse of the opposition coalition that failed to topple Erdogan last year.

The main pro-Kurdish party, which supported Imamoglu in 2019, chose its candidate under the DEM banner in Istanbul this time. But many Kurds put aside party loyalty and voted for him again, the results show.

In the Kurdish southeast, the DEM reasserted its power, winning 10 districts. Following the previous elections, the government replaced pro-Kurdish mayors with “trustees” appointed by the government following previous elections on alleged terrorist ties.

Violence broke out earlier in the day, including another incident in the southeast of clashes between groups armed with guns, sticks and stones, killing one and wounding 11. Another, a local official, or “muhtar”, was killed and four people were killed. injured in the fighting, Anadolu said.

Several others were injured in other incidents where one person was shot and two were injured the night before the vote in Bursa, Demiroren said.

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