Erdogan’s rival leads in Istanbul in high-stakes Turkey vote

Apr 1, 2024 4:24 am | News

By Can Sezer and Burcu Karakas

ISTANBUL (Reuters) -Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu led a challenger from President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party in local elections on Sunday, an initial count showed, in a potential boost for the Turkish opposition’s effort to reassert itself as a political force.

In another blow to Erdogan, in the nation’s second-largest city Ankara, incumbent opposition mayor Mansur Yavas declared victory over his AK Party (AKP) challenger less than three hours after polls closed in the nationwide municipal vote.

The nationwide local elections are seen by analysts as a gauge of both Erdogan’s support and the opposition’s durability.

Erdogan, who has led Turkey for more than two decades, campaigned hard for his party to reclaim control of Istanbul from rival Imamoglu, the incumbent mayor and potential future presidential challenger.

Violence erupted in some cities in eastern Turkey related to the election of neighbourhood officials, which were on the ballot alongside mayors and other municipal officials, with three people reported to have been killed.

According to official results based on 41.43% of ballot boxes opened, Imamoglu had 50% support compared with 41.26% for AK Party (AKP) challenger Murat Kurum, a former minister in Erdogan’s national government.

“Based on the data we have gathered, I can say that the favour and trust our citizens have in us have indeed been demonstrated,” Imamoglu said.

“The current picture greatly pleases us,” he added.

State-run Anadolu Agency also published partial official tallies showing the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leading in big cities such as Izmir, Bursa, Antalya and Adana.

The CHP’s Imamoglu had dealt Erdogan and his AKP the biggest electoral blow of his two decades in power after winning the 2019 vote. The president struck back in 2023 by securing re-election and a parliament majority with his nationalist allies.

According to partial results, the CHP is leading nationwide by almost 39% of the votes, a first in 35 years.


Analysts said a poor showing for AKP on Sunday could loosen Erdogan’s control of Turkey and signal potential change in the major emerging economy’s divided political landscape. An Imamoglu win would also 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,” AKP voter and retiree Omer said earlier on Sunday, while a jubilant crowd chanted the president’s name as he emerged from a polling station in Istanbul.

Elsewhere in Istanbul, Europe’s biggest city with more than 16 million people, engineer Murat Ercan said he 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 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, which drives Turkey’s economy, polls had suggested a tight race between Imamoglu and Kurum.

Analysts said the initial results likely reflected in part economic strains driven by near 70% inflation, with dissatisfied Kurdish and Islamist voters weighing on the AKP’s performance.

While the main prize for Erdogan is Istanbul, he also sought 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.

The initial results suggested that Erdogan’s prospects were little improved by the collapse of the opposition alliance that he defeated last year. Imamoglu, an affable former businessman, still appeals to voters beyond the base of his secularist CHP.

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

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

© Reuters. Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas, mayoral candidate of the main opposition Republican People's Party, arrives at a polling station, Ankara, March 31, 2024. REUTERS/Cagla Gurdogan

“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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