Local elections victory is Turkish main opposition party’s first national polls win since 1977

Local elections victory is Turkish main opposition party’s first national polls win since 1977
CHP supporters took to the streets of Istanbul to celebrate a long sought after victory over Erdogan. / DW, screenshot
By bne IntelliNews April 1, 2024

With its local polls victory on Sunday March 31, Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) won a national election for the first time since 1977.

The secular party received 37.7% of the vote, more than two percentage points more than President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), according to the preliminary official results.

The AKP lost 11 cities that it controlled since the 2019 local elections. Its performance in the largest five cities—namely, Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Bursa and Antalya—was very poor. Also surprisingly bad for the party were the results in conservative heartlands in Anatolia, like Adiyaman and Afyon.

“The virus that entered into our system such as arbitrariness, arrogance, nepotism, high cost of living, and impoverishment were clear signs of the drift in the economy,” Samil Tayyar, a former MP from the AKP, wrote on social media platform X. “This result is neither the permanent success of the CHP nor the New Welfare Party, but a very harsh balancing act for the AKP. This is a political disaster.”

The New Welfare Party, or Yeniden Refah Partisi (YRP), is a right-wing Islamist populist party that offered an alternative to some religious voters who normally back the AKP. Officials in the AKP who looked at whether it could be demonised are said to have been frustrated because the YRP was part of the AKP’s alliance in last year’s national elections, meaning it had been endorsed.

“We have some time to recover the economy and focus on our goals,” Middle East Eye quoted an Ankara insider as saying. “But Erdogan doesn’t have the same stamina anymore. He is tired after too many election cycles,” they added.

"I think it's mainly about the economy and in particular the inflation ... story. I think voters decided to punish Erdogan for these reasons," said Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of political risk consultancy Teneo, adding that AKP lost control of industrial regions where lots of workers earn the minimum wage, which has failed to keep up with inflation despite big rises.

Many saw the local elections as a referendum on Erdogan, who has entered his third decade as Turkey’s leader. “It was a ‘no’ vote to Erdogan especially in Istanbul and a lot of other places,” Selim Koru, an analyst at the Ankara-based Tepav think tank, told the Financial Times.

“It’s enough AKP. We are tired of the AKP because of the economic situation. Everything is so expensive,” 59-year-old Sanliurfa resident Ramazan Cimen, who has typically voted for the AKP but said he was now backing New Welfare, told the UK daily, adding: “We need a change in this country.”

For those who would like that change to come soon, there is the sobering reality that the next general election is not scheduled to take place until 2028.