Oppositions wins in Turkey’s local elections mark a rare defeat for Erdogan

Oppositions wins in Turkey’s local elections mark a rare defeat for Erdogan

ISTANBUL — Turkey’s main opposition party won a resounding victory in Sunday’s local elections, handing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan his worst defeat in a contest that laid bare voter anger over a deep and debilitating economic crisis.

Unofficial results showed the opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, with a nationwide lead over Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), 37.7 percent to 35.5 percent, with 99.8 percent of the ballots counted, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

The election, for mayors and local council seats, was the first national victory for the CHP in the more than two decades that Erdogan has served as Turkey’s dominating leader. And it marked a startling turnaround for the CHP less than a year after its candidate was defeated by Erdogan in a presidential race that left Turkey’s opposition in disarray.

Late Sunday, though, it was Erdogan who appeared humbled, amid signs of ruling party defections and opposition gains in conservative areas that were mainstays of the president’s support.

“We lost momentum throughout the country,” Erdogan said in a speech late Sunday in Ankara, the capital. “We will assess the results of the elections genuinely, and boldly engage in self-criticism.”

The election’s biggest prize was Istanbul: a city of 16 million people, Turkey’s economic powerhouse and the springboard for Erdogan’s storied political career after he served as the city’s mayor. Ekrem Imamoglu, the incumbent CHP mayor, defeated a ruling-party challenger Sunday by just over a million votes, according to unofficial results.

The victory boosted Imamoglu’s status as perhaps Erdogan’s most potent challenger, less than five years after he rose to national prominence by wresting the city’s mayoral seat from decades of AKP control. After a campaign that focused on local issues — the revitalization of Istanbul, the city’s earthquake preparedness — Imamoglu cast his victory late Sunday in more expansive terms, targeting Erdogan’s authoritarian rule.

Sunday “marks the end of democratic erosion in Turkey and the resurgence of democracy,” he said. “People oppressed under authoritarian regimes now turn their gaze to Istanbul.”

The results showed CHP candidates winning municipalities in 35 of Turkey’s 81 provinces and retaining or gaining control of the country’s five largest cities — a thumping victory that left opposition supporters to wonder what might have been had they fielded a more charismatic candidate in last year’s presidential race.

The breakup of an opposition alliance after the defeat of that candidate, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, did not hurt the CHP’s fortunes Sunday. In Istanbul, the results suggested that supporters of a major Kurdish opposition party that had fielded its own mayoral candidate voted for Imamoglu instead.

Erdogan’s party appeared to suffer from defections, including from an Islamist party that had criticized the Turkish leader for not breaking off economic ties with Israel during the war in Gaza and garnered more than 6 percent of the national vote.

But it was Erdogan’s handling of the economy that appeared to loom largest in the race, with households battered by runaway inflation and the cratering value of the currency. Despite Erdogan’s appointment last year of a well-respected economic team and his decision to allow the Central Bank to raise interest rates to their highest level in decades, inflation has remained at about 70 percent.

“It’s all about the economy,” said Altan Barcin, a 56-year old CHP supporter who waited to cast a ballot early Sunday in Istanbul’s Gungoren district. He had voted for Erdogan’s party before, a few years after it came to power, when it was “doing well,” he said.

“I think their economic policies will have an impact on the election results,” he said.

Fatma Ensari, 50, another voter, said she was lukewarm on Imamoglu — “I don’t think he has done much for Istanbul” — but would vote for him anyway, as a “reaction to the government.”

“I’ll vote due to general situation of Turkey. Economy, education — we’re not happy with any of that,” she said.

Fahim reported from Beirut.

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