Middle East

Turkey’s Erdogan dealt major election blow as opposition party wins big cities

By Scott McLean, Yusuf Gezer and Mohammed Tawfeeq, CNN

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Istanbul CNN  — 

Turkey’s local elections on Sunday marked a major defeat for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, as the main opposition party claimed victory in key cities including Istanbul and Ankara.

Turkey held nationwide elections on Sunday for city mayors, district mayors, and other local officials who will serve for the next five years. The setback for the ruling party came after Erdogan was re-elected as president in a knife-edge May election, defeating opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu in a close runoff vote. After his presidential victory, Erdogan had his sights on reclaiming cities lost to the opposition in 2019.

Preliminary official results showed the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) had won 49 out of 81 municipalities including 14 out of 30 urban areas in the country, Turkey’s High Electoral Council said.

With 99.8 percent of the votes counted, unofficial results showed Erdogan’s chief political rival Ekrem Imamoglu of the CHP re-elected as mayor of Istanbul with 51.1 percent of the votes, according to state broadcaster TRT. Nationwide, the CHP won the most votes, with 37.7 percent.

In the capital, Ankara, CHP candidate and incumbent mayor Mansur Yavas secured 60.4 percent of the vote. In Izmir, the CHP’s Cemil Tugay won with 48.9 percent of the vote.

“The period of one-man rule is over today,” Imamoglu, the 53-year-old businessman-turned-politician told cheering crowds in Istanbul on Sunday night.

“As we celebrate our victory, we send a resounding message to the world: the decline of democracy ends now,” the Istanbul mayor wrote Monday on X. “Istanbul stands as a beacon of hope, a testament to the resilience of democratic values in the face of rising authoritarianism.”

For Erdogan, Istanbul is a strategic and personal crown jewel that he was determined to take back in Sunday’s election. The city was for 25 years run by religiously inclined parties – first by the Welfare Party, of which Erdogan was a member, and then by the AK Party – until the secular CHP won its mayorship in 2019 under Imamoglu.

The AK Party lost 10 Istanbul districts to rivals in the latest election. Beyoglu, the district of Istanbul where Erdogan was born, was lost to the CHP.

Erdogan was not a candidate in this election, but the vote was largely seen as a test of whether the AK Party could win back the cities it lost in the 2019 elections.

The 70-year-old leader conceded defeat on behalf of his party, saying he plans to respect the will of Turkish people.

“Unfortunately, we could not get the result we wanted and hoped for in the local election test,” Erdogan said in a speech delivered Monday at AK Party headquarters in Ankara. Regardless of the results, he added, “the winner of this election is primarily our democracy, the national will, and all 85 million people, regardless of their political views.”

CNN’s Nadeen Ebrahim contributed to this report.

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