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Administrative elections in Türkiye, why Erdoğan lost / Türkiye / areas / Home

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Administrative elections in Türkiye, why Erdoğan lost / Türkiye / areas / Home

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan © Mr. Claret Red/Shutterstock

The administrative elections in Turkey on March 31st marked a historic victory for the Republican People’s Party (CHP). President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan admitted defeat, probably due to the economic and international choices of the Turkish government

Fahrettin Altun, the communications manager of the Turkish presidency, announced on X late in the evening of Sunday 30 March that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would address the nation shortly after midnight.

The speech from the balcony of the AKP party headquarters in Ankara after each election is a sort of tradition, but unlike in the past, the Turkish president had to comment on a crushing defeat.

“Unfortunately this time the outcome was not the one we hoped for” conceded Erdoğan, “but there is good in every defeat, so our elders used to say”, he then added.

A speech with soft tones: the Turkish president preferred to keep a low profile, praising Turkey’s democratic tradition and admitting the need to respect the will of the voters.

Erdoğan also indicated that in the next four years – those remaining until the end of his mandate – he will focus on keeping inflation at bay and on the reconstruction of the earthquake-stricken areas. He also alluded to a possible military operation in Iraqi or Syrian Kurdistan.

And give

A historic victory for the Republican People’s Party (CHP), beyond the wildest expectations: the last time the party founded by Atatürk obtained more votes than all other political forces was in 1977, under the leadership of Bülent Ecevit.

The CHP in fact collected 37.76% of the votes, slightly surpassing the Justice and Development Party (AKP) which received 35.48% of the votes.

The CHP maintained control in Istanbul, where Ekrem İmamoğlu (51.14%) easily prevailed over Murat Kurum (39.59%), an opposition candidate and former Minister of Transport and Infrastructure.

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Even clearer was the victory of Mansur Yavaş (60.44%) in Ankara, who defeated Turgut Altınok (31.68%), the latter highly criticized for refusing to release his tax return.

The affirmation of Cemil Tugay (48.97%) in Izmir, the historic stronghold of the CHP, is less surprising. Considering the context, the government candidate Hamza Dağ (37.06%) certainly did not disfigure himself.

The CHP has therefore established itself in the five most populous cities of the country, the three mentioned above plus Bursa, home of the Turkish automotive industry, and Antalya, an internationally renowned tourist destination and important trade fair centre.

The opposition has also expanded beyond its traditional strongholds, namely Thrace and the Aegean coast; conquering the provinces of western Anatolia.

Where it did not prevail, the AKP remained the second party in the country almost everywhere: it maintained a strong presence in central and eastern Anatolia, as well as reconfirming itself on the Black Sea.

The reasons for the defeat

After his victory in last year’s presidential election, Erdoğan appointed Mehmet Şimşek, an economist of international stature, as Minister of Treasury and Finance, signaling a return to orthodox monetary policy.

To put a stop to galloping inflation and regain the confidence of investors and markets, the Turkish Central Bank gradually raised interest rates to 45%, in an attempt to stabilize the exchange rate.

The credit crunch combined with restrictions on consumer credit have cooled the economy, in particular exports and the construction sector. A necessary but harmful medicine for the weakest sections of the population, for all pensioners and workers who receive the minimum wage.

Certain segments of the conservative electorate did not like the government’s position on the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Turkey, despite having verbally taken the side of Hamas, even justifying the “al-Aqsa Storm” operation of 7 October 2023, continues to maintain lively maritime trade with Israel.

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As demonstrated by exiled independent journalist Metin Cihan, many companies that do business with Israel are owned by men close to the government. Not even an experienced politician like Erdoğan, who enjoys immense credit among the masses, was able to resolve this ambiguity, ending up paying the price at the ballot box.

The surprise and the losers

In addition to the opposition, the New Welfare Party (YRP) took advantage of this, becoming the third most voted party with 6.19%. The YRP is a conservative formation inspired by the ideas and philosophy of the father of Turkish Islamism Necmettin Erbakan.

His son Fatih today heads the party, which presents itself as an anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist Islamic movement, incorruptible and irreproachable, ideologically pure and therefore perceived by some conservative voters as an alternative to the AKP.

Surprisingly, the parties that made hostility to foreigners and migrants the leitmotif of their electoral campaign achieved modest results: the Victory Party (ZP) and the Good Party (İYİ) in fact garnered just over 5% of votes. .

The Kurds

Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş was supposed to give an indication of the vote to his base before election day according to rumors that were circulating but this did not happen.

In all likelihood a minority of the pro-Kurdish electorate therefore preferred to give their vote to the CHP, in particular the mayor of Istanbul İmamoğlu benefited from this. However, the Party of Peoples’ Equality and Democracy (DEM) gained control of 10 provinces in the south-east of the country.

Voter participation reached 78.55%, a flattering percentage for any European country, but below average in Turkey. The elections were held regularly even in the areas inhabited mostly by Kurds, although there were sporadic episodes of violence. In this regard, a Turkish police operation led to the identification of 340 people in 14 provinces, as announced by Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya on April 4.

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Tension was especially high in the town of Van, located on the lake of the same name in eastern Anatolia, less than two hours from the Iranian border. The winning candidate of the DEM, Abdullah Zeydan, was initially denied the delivery of the mazbata, the document through which the Turkish state confirms the validity of the election of a mayor.

Probably, due to a video circulating online dating back to 2015 in which he is heard praising the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – considered a terrorist organization by the Turkish government – Zeydan risked seeing the AKP’s losing rival take his place: an episode that would have brought to mind what happened after the 2019 municipal elections, when some elected mayors from the south-east of the country were replaced by the so-called kayyum, administrative commissioners sent from Ankara.

Unexpectedly, however, the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) overturned the decision and declared Zeydan as mayor of Van, at which point the protests of Zeydan’s supporters stopped in the city, and they promptly took to the streets.

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