Setback For Right Wing President Erdogan

By Satyaki Chakraborty

Right wing President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party got a major jolt in the Sunday’s local elections as the main opposition made huge gains at the cost of the ruling party candidates, apart from consolidating their hold in their own areas. The authoritarian President was given a big rebuff by the Turkish people signalling that the next national elections will be a big challenge to President Erdogan.

The incumbent Istanbul Mayor EkremImamoglu, of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) looks to have won by a wide margin in Turkey’s largest city and economic hub, according to the Anadolu Agency.

Mansur Yavas, the mayor of the capital, Ankara, retained his seat with a stunning 25-point difference over his challenger. Outside Ankara City Hall, where a large crowd gathered to celebrate the victory, supporters chanted “Ankara is proud of you!” CHP won the municipalities across 36 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, according to the Anadolu Agency, making inroads into former strongholds for Mr Erdogan’s party.

CHP gained 37 per cent of the vote nationwide, compared to 36 per cent for the president’s party in a 76 per cent turnout, marking the CHP’s greatest electoral victory since Mr Erdogan came to power two decades ago. The results have led to a gloom among the President’s supporters and this may lead to the intensification of inner party battle within the ruling party against the present President.

Mr Erdogan acknowledged the electoral setback in a speech delivered from the balcony of the presidential palace, saying his party had suffered “a loss of altitude” across Turkey. The people delivered a “message” that his party will “analyse” by engaging in “courageous” self-criticism, he said.

Mr Erdogan added: “We will correct our mistakes and redress our shortcomings.” He vowed to press ahead with an economic programme introduced last year aiming to combat inflation, which rose to 67 per cent in February. Mr Erdogan has allowed borrowing costs to rise to 50 per cent in a bid to combat soaring prices.

The result came as a boost for the opposition, which was divided and demoralised after a defeat to Mr Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), in last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections. Now, the rejuvenated CHP supporters are talking of removing President Erdogan from power in the next national elections.

“The voters decided to establish a new political order in Turkey,” CHP leader Ozgur Ozel told a crowd of jubilant supporters. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party was on course to win many municipalities in the country’s south-east region.

But in previous years, Mr Erdogan’s government removed elected pro-Kurdish mayors from office for alleged links to Kurdish resistance fighters and replaced them with state-appointed trustees. Up to 61 million people, including more than a million first-time voters, were eligible to cast ballots for all metropolitan municipalities, town and district mayorships as well as neighbourhood administrations

In total, CHP prevailed in 36 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, state-run Anadolu Agency reported, making inroads into many AK Party strongholds. Opposition supporters gathered in Istanbul to celebrate the results, with tens of thousands of people lighting torches and waving Turkish flags.

In previous local elections in 2019, Imamoglu won Istanbul’s mayoral race, dealing Erdogan and the AK Party their biggest electoral blow until that point. That defeat also struck a personal note for Erdogan, who was born and raised in the city and served as its mayor in the 1990s.

Sunday’s local elections represent a new blow to the president who had set his sights on retaking control of those urban areas. Some 61 million people were eligible to vote for mayors across Turkey’s 81 provinces as well as provincial council members and other local officials on Sunday.

The nationwide local elections were seen by analysts and civilians as a gauge of both Erdogan’s support and the opposition’s durability amid skyrocketing inflation and the crumbling of the Turkish currency against the dollar.

Sinan Ulgen, director of the Istanbul-based Edam think tank, told The Associated Press news agency that “the surprising outcome” was the result of voters wanting to punish the governing party over the state of the economy and described the elections as a “watershed for Imamoglu”. “He will emerge as the natural candidate of the opposition for the next round of presidential elections,” Ulgen said. (IPA )