Opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) supporters celebrate outside the main municipality building following municipal elections across Turkey, in Istanbul on March 31, 2024.

Yasin Akgul | Afp | Getty Images

Turkey’s opposition won a stunning victory across several major cities in the country’s local elections Sunday, dealing a severe blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party and handing it its largest defeat in more than two decades.

“Those who do not understand the nation’s message will eventually lose,” Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu told thousands of supporters after vote counts revealed that his center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) had won the megacity of Istanbul by more than 1 million votes, Reuters reported.

“Tonight, 16 million Istanbul citizens sent a message to both our rivals and the president,” he said.

Erdogan’s conservative Justice and Development Party, abbreviated locally as AKP, dominates the country at the national level.

In a speech Sunday night, Erdogan admitted his party had “lost altitude” and would work to rectify its errors.

“If we made a mistake, we will fix it … if we have anything missing, we will complete it,” he said from the balcony of the presidential palace, according to a Reuters translation. Erdogan, 70, has governed Turkey since 2003.

The sweeping opposition win municipal elections across major Turkish cities like Istanbul, Izmir, and the capital Ankara could set the country in a new direction. Erdogan himself rose to prominence as Istanbul mayor in the 1990s before later going on to win the presidency; now, analysts are speculating that Imamoglu’s win in Istanbul could make him a front-runner for the Turkish presidency in 2028.

TOPSHOT – Istanbul’s newly re-elected mayor Ekrem Imamoglu waves as opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) supporters celebrate outside the main municipality building following municipal elections across Turkey on March 31, 2024. Imamoglu’s second victory in an Istanbul city election cemented his standing as Turkey’s top opposition leader in a new blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling party.

Yasin Akgul | Afp | Getty Images

Erdogan himself once said that whoever wins Istanbul wins Turkey

Imamoglu, a 52-year-old former businessman, has been Istanbul’s mayor since 2019. He attempted to run for president in Turkey’s 2023 general election, but was banned by Erdogan’s government from running, in a move CHP supporters say was purely political. In those elections, Erdogan’s party won big, leaving AKP on top at the national level.

Roughly 61 million voters were eligible to cast their votes for mayors, council members and other administrative leaders across Turkey’s 81 provinces. Voter turnout was registered at 76%, according to the country’s state-run Anadolu news agency. It said CHP came out ahead in 36 of 81 provinces, including several of Turkey’s largest cities.

Rampant inflation, economic discontent

Turkey’s economy has been on a downward spiral since 2018, battling with severely high inflation, a weak currency and struggling foreign currency reserves. Annual inflation in the country of 85 million was recorded at 67% for the month of February, and Turkey’s main interest rate sits at 50% — with both figures causing significant pain for the ordinary Turkish consumer.

“Disastrous results for the ruling AKP — failing to win major cities and perhaps even losing national vote to the opposition CHP,” Timothy Ash, senior emerging markets strategist at BlueBay Asset Management, told CNBC. “This result is all about inflation.”

Arda Tunca, an Istanbul-based economist, made a similar assessment.

“In 2019, AKP lost major cities due to the effects of the 2018 [economic] crisis, because the crisis was felt mainly in big cities. Now, the threat of impoverishment and unemployment has spread throughout the country,” he said.

Turkey’s lira was trading at 32.43 to the dollar Monday morning in Istanbul, hovering around its record low against the American currency. The beleaguered Turkish note has lost 40% of its value against the dollar in the past year, and nearly 83% in the last five years.



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