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Erdoğan cracks as secular left wins big in Türkiye elections

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Ekrem Imamoğlu, secured a thundering win over Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP party in Istanbul’s local government election. “You opened the door to the rise of democracy, equality, and freedom,” Imamoğlu said following his re-election. “You ignited hope at the ballot box.” Picture: Wikimedia

By Brett Wilkins

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party suffered its worst-ever defeat Sunday when the country’s main opposition party scored major wins in municipal elections, including in all five of the nation’s largest cities.

With nearly all ballots counted, candidates for the centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) emerged victorious in Istanbul, the capital Ankara, İzmir, Bursa, Adana, and other cities and towns. Turkish media reported CHP victories in 36 of the country’s 81 provinces. The right-wing Justice and Development Party (AKP) performed best in the largely rural Anatolian interior.

It was the first time in Erdoğan’s 21 years as Türkiye’s increasingly autocratic president that the AKP suffered such a nationwide electoral defeat.

“My dear Istanbulites, you opened the door to a new future today,” incumbent CHP Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu told jubilant supporters during his victory speech following what’s likely to be a double-digit win over AKP challenger Murat Kurum. “Starting from tomorrow, Türkiye will be a different Türkiye. You opened the door to the rise of democracy, equality, and freedom … You ignited hope at the ballot box.”

Imamoğlu said that Sunday “marks the end of democratic erosion in Türkiye and the resurgence of democracy”.

“People oppressed under authoritarian regimes now turn their gaze to Istanbul,” he added.

In Ankara — where an ecstatic crowd chanted “Türkiye is secular and will remain secular!” and “Tayyip resign!” outside the city hall — CHP Mayor Mansur Yavaş promised his second term would be one of greater inclusion after beating his AKP rival by a stunning 25-point margin.

“Our political views may be different… But now the election is over,” he told supporters. “We will … continue to serve 6 million Ankara residents without discrimination.”

Erdoğan, meanwhile, acknowledged that the AKP “lost altitude” with Sunday’s sweeping losses, vowing, “We will correct our mistakes and redress our shortcomings.”

Imamoğlu’s re-election was a personal blow to Erdoğan, an Istanbul native who launched his political career as the megacity’s mayor in the 1990s. The AKP had set its sights on retaking control of Istanbul and Ankara but came up empty-handed.

Analysts said skyrocketing inflation, the collapsing value of the lira, disaffected Islamist voters, and Imamoğlu’s popularity — which transcends the CHP’s traditionally secular base — were major factors in Sunday’s results.

So was the Gaza genocide. While Türkiye is supporting the South Africa-led genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice, Erdoğan and the AKP have been accused — especially by Islamists — of paying little more than lip service to the cause of Palestinian liberation, while Imamoğlu has said that Türkiye should immediately sever trade relations with Israel.

Experts said Imamoğlu’s victory puts him, and the CHP, at the centre of Turkish politics.

“Imamoglu demonstrated he could reach across the deep socio-political divisions that define Türkiye’s opposition electorate even without their institutional support,” Mert Arslanalp, assistant professor of political science at Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University, told Reuters. “This makes him the most politically competitive rival to Erdogan’s regime.”

In the predominantly Kurdish southeast, the progressive People’s Equality and Democratic Party (DEM) won 10 provinces. Election-related violence erupted in parts of the region, including in the village of Ağaçlıdere in the Sur district of Diyarbakır, where DEM polling officer Emin Çelik was killed and around a dozen others were wounded. There were multiple reports of Turkish police violently dispersing Kurds celebrating election wins.

International leftists hailed the big wins by CHP and DEM candidates, with Party of European Socialists president Stefan Löfven cheering what he called “a great victory for democracy and a giant step towards a better future of the Turkish people”.

“Erdoğan is losing the local elections in the entire country, leaving room for the opposition to breath and to come back victorious at the next national elections,” he added. “We are looking forward to that.”

Brett Wilkins is a staff writer for Common Dreams

This article was first published on Common Dreams