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Does Local Elections in Turkey Show the Declining Popularity of AK Party?

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In the local elections held in Turkey, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) emerged victorious over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party). The CHP claimed wins in the major cities of Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir, with Istanbul’s CHP mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, holding the city by defeating AK Party candidate and former Environment and Urbanisation Minister Murat Kurum with just over 51% of the vote. The final count after Sunday’s voting showed that the CHP won 37.8% of the ballots, followed by the AK Party with just under 35.5%, according to the Daily Sabah newspaper.

Ekrem Imamoglu’s career mirrors Erdogan’s. Both began their political careers in Istanbul in the 1990s and had them obstructed by legal issues. Imamoglu is from the secularist CHP, joining in 2008 and becoming mayor of Istanbul’s Beylikduzu district ten years ago. The country’s economic decline, which led to nearly 70% inflation and a rising cost of living, has been a significant factor in the election results. Analysts speculated that the AK Party did worse than predicted due to the economy and, in Istanbul, Imamoglu’s appeal beyond the CHP’s secular base.

The CHP’s candidates won in 35 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, including Antalya, Denizli, and Izmir. Besides Imamoglu declaring victory in Istanbul, CHP Mayor Mansur Yavas also held on to the capital, Ankara, defeating his challenger, veteran politician Turgut Altinok, with just over 60% of the vote. The opposition supporters lit torches and waved flags in Istanbul, celebrating the wins, while supporters of the AK candidate were unhappy, saying Kurum had stood by them.

President Erdogan delivered a speech from the balcony of the presidential palace, saying that his party had suffered “a loss of altitude” across Turkey, and the people had delivered a “message.” He promised to press ahead with an economic program introduced last year aiming to combat inflation. Some experts predicted that these local elections would give Imamoglu the support he needs to follow in Erdogan’s footsteps, rising from Istanbul’s mayor to Turkey’s president in the 2028 race. Erdogan has indicated that he will not run for a fourth term in 2028, nor is he eligible to run, according to the current constitution.

Overall, the local elections in Turkey were closely watched, particularly given the country’s economic struggles and the ongoing political turmoil. While the results were a significant victory for the opposition CHP, the impact they will have on the country’s broader political landscape and on President Erdogan’s hold on power remains uncertain, adding a layer of intrigue to the future of Turkish politics.

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