Turkey's Erdogan suffers 'historic' crushing blow in 'severest election defeat' in decades

Turkey's Erdogan suffers 'historic' crushing blow in 'severest election defeat' in decades

While Islamist parties have split votes in Turkey, Iain Duncan Smith warned their 'time was up' in the UK

James Saunders

By James Saunders

Published: 02/04/2024

- 11:43

Istanbul's mayor Ekrem Imamoglu 'is now the default nemesis to President Erdogan' after eclipsing the premier, analysts said

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has acknowledged a "turning point" for his country after his ruling party suffered its biggest political defeat in over two decades of power this weekend.

Mayoral elections across Turkey on Sunday had seen Erdogan's AK Party (AKP) slip behind the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) for the first time in 35 years, with Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu now being touted as the president's "default nemesis".

Imamoglu led by 11 percentage points in the mayoral race in Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, while his CHP retained Turkish capital Ankara and gained 15 other mayoral seats in other cities across the country.

The CHP - the party of modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk - won near 38 per cent support nationwide, more than two points ahead of the AKP and shattering the ceiling of 25 per cent support it has had this century.


Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu was now being touted as Erdogan's "default nemesis"


The opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper called it "a historic victory" that taught Erdogan a lesson.

Erdogan delivered what Reuters called a "sombre and introspective" speech in the early hours of Monday morning, saying: "This is not an end for us, but actually a turning point."

The Turkish premier acknowledged a "loss of altitude" for his party, but vowed "if we made a mistake, we will fix it" to crowds gathered at AKP headquarters in Ankara - though stopped short of indicating what changes he might make within his party or in policy.

While Imamoglu said: "Those who do not understand the nation's message will eventually lose," in front of thousands of supporters - some of whom called for Erdogan to resign.


Imamoglu and crowd

Imamoglu thanked supporters for "sending a message" to rivals and the president


The mayor continued: "Tonight, 16 million Istanbul citizens sent a message to both our rivals and the president."

In response to the historic results, Turkish stocks rose, while the Lira - which has dropped in value by more than 80 per cent over the last five years - touched another record low versus the Dollar.

Erdogan and his party fared worse than opinion polls predicted due to soaring inflation, dissatisfied Islamist voters and, in Istanbul, Imamoglu's appeal beyond the CHP's secular base, analysts said.

Mert Arslanalp, assistant professor of political science at Istanbul's Bogazici University, said it was Erdogan's "severest election defeat" since coming to national power in 2002.

Crowds in Istanbul

Dramatic images from Istanbul showed crowds of voters celebrating the results


"Imamoglu demonstrated he could reach across the deep socio-political divisions that define Turkey's opposition electorate even without their institutional support.

"This makes him the most politically competitive rival to Erdogan's regime."

While Hakan Akbas, a senior adviser at the Albright Stonebridge Group, said: "The economy was the decisive factor... Turkish people demanded change and Imamoglu is now the default nemesis to President Erdogan."

Another driver between a slump in support for Erdogan's party was rising popular support for the Islamist New Welfare Party, which took an even more hardline stance than Erdogan against Israel over the Gaza conflict.

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