Erdogan battles rival in Turkey’s local elections, violence flares

Apr 1, 2024 1:23 am | News

By Daren Butler and Can Sezer

ISTANBUL (Reuters) -Turks voted on Sunday in municipal elections focused on President Tayyip Erdogan’s bid to reclaim control of Istanbul from rival Ekrem Imamoglu, who aims to reassert the opposition as a political force after election defeats last year.

Polls closed at 5 p.m. (1400 GMT) after some violence across the country related to the election of neighbourhood officials, or ‘muhtars’, with three people reported killed. Initial vote results are expected by early evening.

Istanbul Mayor Imamoglu dealt Erdogan and his AK Party the biggest electoral blow of two decades in power with his win in the 2019 vote. The president struck back in 2023 by securing re-election and a parliament majority with his nationalist allies.

Sunday’s results could reinforce Erdogan’s control of NATO-member Turkey, or signal change in the major emerging economy’s divided political landscape. An Imamoglu win would fuel expectations of him becoming a future national leader.

“Imamoglu is fine and does what he should as mayor, but he does not compare with Erdogan,” AK Party (AKP) voter and retiree Omer said, while a jubilant crowd chanted the president’s name as he emerged from a polling station in Istanbul.

Elsewhere in Istanbul, engineer Murat Ercan disapproved of Erdogan’s active role in campaigning for his party ahead of the elections, believing the president should be impartial.

“Ekrem Imamoglu is the sort of president we long for, with his constructive and smiling nature, embracing everyone,” Ercan, 60, said after casting his ballot in Istanbul.

In one incident in the southeast, groups clashed with guns, sticks and stones, killing one and wounding 11. In another, one muhtar candidate was killed and four people wounded in a fight, state-owned Anadolu news agency said.

It also said 16 people were hurt in a clash in Sanliurfa, while a muhtar was stabbed in Afyonkarahisar in the west. Demiroren reported separately that one person was shot dead and two wounded overnight in Bursa.


In Istanbul, a city of 16 million people that drives Turkey’s economy, polls suggest a tight race as Imamoglu faces a challenge from AKP candidate Murat Kurum, a former minister.

The results are likely to be shaped in part by economic problems driven by near 70% inflation, and by Kurdish and Islamist voters weighing the government’s performance.

While the main prize for Erdogan is Istanbul, he also seeks to win back the capital Ankara. Both cities were won by the opposition in 2019 after being under the rule of his AKP and Islamist predecessors for the previous 25 years.

Erdogan’s prospects have been helped by the collapse of the opposition alliance that he defeated last year, though Imamoglu still appeals to voters beyond his main opposition Republican People’s Party.

Voters of the main pro-Kurdish party were crucial to Imamoglu’s 2019 success. Their DEM party this time is fielding its own candidate in Istanbul, but many Kurds are expected to put aside party loyalty and vote for him again.

In the mainly Kurdish southeast, DEM aims to reaffirm its strength after the state replaced pro-Kurdish mayors with state-appointed ‘trustees’ following previous elections over alleged militant ties.

© Reuters. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan poses with his supporters as he leaves a polling station during the local elections in Istanbul, Turkey March 31, 2024. Murat Kulu/PPO/Handout via REUTERS

“I wish for an end to the trustee system. This election is important for Turkey’s future and for listening to us: Kurds are always decisive,” said civil servant Elif Durgun, 32.

One factor working against Erdogan is a rise in support for the Islamist New Welfare Party due to its hardline stance against Israel over the Gaza conflict and dissatisfaction with the Islamist-rooted AKP’s handling of the economy.

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