World

Turkey elections: Blow to Erdogan as opposition set to retain control of cities

The local elections were seen as a barometer of President Erdogan’s popularity as he sought to win back control of key urban areas.

A woman votes at a polling station in Istanbul (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Turkish voter A woman votes at a polling station in Istanbul (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel) (Emrah Gurel/AP)

Turkey’s main opposition party appeared set to retain its control over key cities in Sunday’s local elections, preliminary results showed.

The outcome would be a major upset to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had set his sights on retaking control of those urban areas.

With some 20% of the votes counted, incumbent mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, was leading in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city and economic hub – according to state broadcaster TRT.

Mayor Mansur Yavas, the mayor of the capital Ankara, also appeared poised to retain his seat with a comfortable majority, the results indicated.

Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, right, and his wife, Dilek, cast their votes at a polling station (Huseyin Yavuz/Dia Images via AP)
Turkey Local Elections Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, right, and his wife, Dilek, cast their votes at a polling station (Huseyin Yavuz/Dia Images via AP) (Huseyin Yavuz/AP)

The CHP appeared to be leading in 35 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, according to the preliminary results reported by TRT.

The vote was seen as barometer of President Erdogan’s popularity as he sought to win back control of key urban areas he lost to the opposition in elections five years ago.

The CHP’s victory in Ankara and Istanbul in 2019, had shattered Mr Erdogan’s aura of invincibility.

The main battleground for the 70-year-old Turkish president was Istanbul, a city of 16 million people where he was born and raised and where he began his political career as mayor in 1994.

A strong showing for Erdogan’s ruling Islamic-oriented Justice and Development Party, or AKP, would likely harden 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, analysts say.

For the opposition – divided and demoralised after a defeat in last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections – keeping Istanbul and Ankara would be a major boost and help remobilise supporters.

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