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Turkey President Erdogan suffers worst electoral defeat in two decades

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s party suffered its worst defeat in more than two decades in power in local elections held this weekend.

With most of the votes counted, Mr Erdogan‘s main rival, Ekrem Imamoglu, led by 10 percentage points in the mayoral race in Istanbul.

His Republican People’s Party (CHP) retained Ankara by a resounding margin and gained 15 other mayoral seats in cities nationwide.

FILE PHOTO: Istanbul's mayor Ekrem Imamoglu speaks during a campaign event ahead of the local elections in Istanbul, Turkey, March 19, 2024. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
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Istanbul’s mayor Ekrem Imamoglu during a campaign event ahead of the local elections. Pic: Reuters

The CHP won the municipalities of 36 of Turkey‘s 81 provinces, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency, making inroads into many strongholds of Mr Erdogan’s party.

It gained 37% of the votes nationwide, compared to 36% for the president’s party.

Mr Erdogan, 70, acknowledged the electoral setback for him and his AK Party (AKP) in a speech delivered from the balcony of the presidential palace, saying his party had suffered “a loss of altitude” across Turkey.

The people delivered a “message” that his party will “analyse” by engaging in “courageous” self-criticism, he said.

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“Unfortunately, nine months after our victory in the 28 May elections, we could not get the result we wanted in the local election test.

“We will correct our mistakes and redress our shortcomings,” he added.

Mr Erdogan and the AKP fared worse than opinion polls predicted due to soaring inflation, dissatisfied Islamist voters and, in Istanbul, Mr Imamoglu’s appeal beyond the CHP’s secular base, analysts said.

“Those who do not understand the nation’s message will eventually lose,” Mr Imamoglu, 53, told thousands of jubilant supporters late on Sunday, with some of them chanting for Mr Erdogan to resign.

“Tonight, 16 million Istanbul citizens sent a message to both our rivals and the president,” said the former businessman, who entered politics in 2008 and is now widely touted as a likely presidential challenger.

Istanbul was seen as the main battleground for the Turkish president – a city of 16 million people where he was born and raised and where he began his political career as mayor in 1994.

Supporters of Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, mayoral candidate of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), celebrate following the early results in front of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IBB) in Istanbul, Turkey March 31, 2024. REUTERS/Umit Bektas TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Supporters of Ekrem Imamoglu celebrate following early results in Istanbul. Pic: Reuters

But the national vote was also considered a test of Mr Erdogan’s popularity as he sought to win back control of key urban areas he lost to the opposition in elections five years ago.

Analysts said a strong showing for Mr Erdogan’s party would have hardened his resolve to usher in a new constitution – one that would reflect his conservative values and allow him to rule beyond 2028 when his current term ends.

Mr Erdogan has presided over Turkey for more than two decades – as prime minister since 2003 and president since 2014.

Supporters of Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas, mayoral candidate of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), celebrate at the CHP headquarters following the early results during the local elections in Ankara, Turkey March 31, 2024. REUTERS/Cagla Gurdogan
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Supporters of Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas, mayoral candidate of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), celebrate on Sunday night. Pic: Reuters

In Turkey’s mainly Kurdish-populated southeast, the DEM Party was on course to win many of the municipalities but it’s unclear whether it would be allowed to retain them.

In previous years, Mr Erdogan’s government removed elected pro-Kurdish mayors from office for alleged links to Kurdish militants and replaced them with state-appointed trustees.

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Some 61 million people, including more than one million first-time voters, were eligible to cast ballots for all metropolitan municipalities, town and district mayorships as well as neighbourhood administrations.

Turnout was around 76%, compared to 87% last year.

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Some 594,000 security personnel were on duty across the country to ensure the vote went smoothly.

But one person was killed and 11 others hurt in the city of Diyarbakir where a dispute over the election of a neighbourhood administrator turned violent.

At least six people were also injured in fighting that erupted in the nearby province of Sanliurfa.

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