Turkey’s Elections a Defeat for Erdogan not a Victory for the Opposition

Turkey’s local elections on March 31 produced a historic result: the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, won 37.7 percent of the vote, beating President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party (35.5 percent) for the first time in more than two decades in power. In Istanbul, CHP mayor Ekrem Imamoglu was re-elected with 51.1 percent of the vote, compared to 39.6 percent for his AK rival, Murat Kurum. In the Turkish capital, Ankara, the incumbent CHP mayor, Mansur Yavas, beat the AKP’s candidate by nearly 29 percentage points. In Izmir, the CHP’s candidate won by 12 points, and opposition supporters also celebrated victory in Antalya and Bursa.

If the CHP’s result is not surprising in Turkey’s big cities, the AKP also lost regions such as Anatolia, once considered strongholds of the majority party. It was “a turning point,” as Erdogan stressed after the results of the elections, adding, “If we made a mistake, we will fix it.” But the CHP’s “victory” was more of an AKP’s resounding defeat, according to Cengiz Aktar, professor of Turkish and Modern Asian Studies at the University of Athens.


Prof. Aktar, what did you think when you saw this result?

Half of the Turkish population is sick and tired of this man [Erdogan, ed] and his regime. However, we should be very careful to decipher what happened, because this is a negative vote. I mean, who won? Of course, when looking at the ballot boxes, the CHP, the main opposition party, won. But I think it’s rather the regime and the parties that form the regime, Erdogan’s AKP and the National Salvation Party (or MSP), that have lost. The CHP has been getting 22 to 23 percent in the elections for years. Suddenly it reached 37 percent, without doing anything meaningful to reach this result. Nothing. For example, there is a town in the east of the country, Adiyaman, which is the capital of ISIS in Turkey. How come this town and its province have shifted to the CHP?

Sociologically speaking, there were three types of votes. One, of those unhappy with the economy in particular, but also in general, who were unhappy with the governance of the last 22 years. They voted against the parties of the regime. The second type of vote was the useful vote of the Kurds. The Kurds voted to take revenge on Erdogan, and they voted for the CHP. This doesn’t mean that they accept its policies – the CHP is a very nationalist party, as nationalist if not more than the AKP. The third type of vote was among the regime’s voters: AKP voters who didn’t go to the polls because they were angry for all kinds of reasons, mainly for economic reasons.

Another factor that played: there was a journalist who had to escape to Germany who had disclosed all the exports of Turkey – mainly by the companies close to the regime, to Israel. That angered the constituency of the regime.


It was a vote of discontent against the man in charge. What are the main reasons for this discontent? You mentioned the economy… Could one also observe that something is changing far away from the big cities?

In a way, it is true. But there was no other choice, this doesn’t mean that all these voters have become active supporters of the CHP. The main reason is the economy, which is in a very bad state. The second reason is nepotism. Erdogan, like all the autocrats, has cleaned up everything around him, and in the end, he is surrounded by yes-men and yes-women. The third reason is this contempt for the common people. The political Islamists have become so rich that they despise everyone. Another reason is, again, Israel and the friendship with Benyamin Netanyahu. All these reasons created a kind of maelstrom that made people say, “Enough, now we will vote against or we will not vote”. Turks usually vote heavily. We had 7 to 10 percent less participation this year, which is very unusual in Turkey.


You are very skeptical about the meaning of the CHP results. Could we say that Imamoglu is coming up as a possible alternative in terms of the political offer for the next elections?

Yes, but the next elections are in four years, there won’t be any snap elections. Also, Imamoglu is not alone. He is the most plausible potential figure to challenge Erdogan, but there is another guy who runs the CHP and was just elected. His name is Ozgur Ozel. Will he agree to let Ekrem run the show? I’m not sure. Moreover, Erdogan hates potential challengers. Selahattin Demirtaş was a serious challenger and it’s seven years now that he’s in jail. Anything can happen because Erdogan hates the idea of being replaced by someone who is not coming the his entourage.

Besides, Turkey is a hyper-centralized country and the results of local elections do not influence the national policy of the government in Turkey, never. Secondly, this regime is now backed into a corner and it is going to become much more repressive. Erdogan will never give up power because he lost an election.

Also, according to Article 127 of the Turkish Constitution, there is a so-called administrative tutelage of the central government over the elected local authorities. It is a sword of Damocles: anything can happen to the local authorities if the central authority doesn’t agree with them. Moreover, 98 percent of the budget of the municipalities in Turkey comes from the central government.


What can be the consequences of this vote?

I expect that Erdogan will reconstitute his power base, and he will probably gather more parties, from the ultra-right and the Islamist sector of the political spectrum. And he will punish the Kurds, he mentioned that the very night of the elections, he said we lost because of the Kurds. And he has already started to hit the Kurds. In a very important city in the east, the Kurdish party candidate won easily. They found an old court case against him and stripped him of his victory. And they have given the mayorship to the candidate of the AKP.

Erdogan is about to start a huge military operation in Iraq, to build a new military base 40km south of the Turkish border. And, he cleared everything up with the Baghdad government, it’s imminent. One thing is sure: this man will do everything and his entourage will do everything to stay in power.




Cover photo: Supporters of Justice and Development (AK) Party cheer as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech after the Turkish local Municipal elections, at AK Party Headquarters in Ankara on April 1, 2024. (Adem Altan/AFP.)



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