Erdoğan’s AKP Party limps out of local elections in second

Voters in Turkey’s cities and provinces delivered their verdict on the current government by handing the opposition a seismic victory. The country’s president now has four years to fix its problems. Will it be enough?

Opposition CHP supporters celebrate as it emerges that the Party has defeated the ruling AK Party in local elections across the country.
Opposition CHP supporters celebrate as it emerges that the Party has defeated the ruling AK Party in local elections across the country.

Erdoğan’s AKP Party limps out of local elections in second

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was victorious in presidential and general elections just less than a year ago in May 2023, suffered a serious setback in local elections on 31 March.

Erdoğan had hoped for a sweeping victory, but the main opposition party CHP (Republican People's Party) turned out to be the winner.

Around 78% of Turkey’s 61.4 million eligible voters went to the polls to elect mayors in 81 provinces, 973 districts and 390 towns, plus thousands of local council members.

With almost all the ballots counted, Erdoğan’s ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) had got 35.49% of the vote, whereas CHP scooped 37.74%.

Four other parties registered, these being YRP (New Welfare Party) with 6.19%, DEM (People's Democracy Party) with 5.68%, MHP (Nationalist Action Party) with 4.96%, and İYİP (Good Party) with 3.77%.

Analysing the results

Compared to the last local elections in 2019, AKP took around 4.2 million fewer votes, while CHP chalked up 3.3 million more, so it is certainly a swing.

In terms of percentages, AKP received 44% of the votes in 2019, meaning a relative drop of around 8.5%, whereas CHP only received 30.12% in 2019, meaning an upswing of around 7.5%.

Less than a year ago, in May 2023, AKP triumphed in the general and presidential elections, with around three million more votes (35.62%).

This week, CHP not only retained all three major cities—Ankara, İstanbul and İzmir—as well as other cities the party won in 2019, but it also added new ones.

The number of provinces CHP won in 2024 has almost doubled, gaining 35 this week, compared to 20 in the 2019. Likewise, AKP is down from 39 to 24.

Erdoğan had sought to recover his losses in the last local elections in 2019 and ran an active election campaign, with rallies and meetings every day across the country.

Turkish President and leader of Justice and Development (AK) Party Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking at the AKP Headquarters in Ankara on 1 April 2024 after the Party came second in local elections.

Senior cabinet members, including the interior minister, foreign minister, and justice minister, went door-to-door, visited guilds, and broke fast at iftars for Ramadan.

Erdoğan said towns and cities run by AKP mayors were best placed to get the most out of public and municipal services, but it seems the voters were not convinced.

The opposition had protested that state resources and bureaucracy was at the disposal of Erdoğan’s ruling AKP. Many used their vote to express their discontent.

Winning the cities

In Turkey’s local elections, Istanbul has long been the jewel in the crown. This year that was as true as ever.

The former environment minister Murat Kurum was AKP’s candidate in İstanbul. In reality, voters were choosing between President Erdoğan himself and Ekrem İmamoğlu, the current mayor of Istanbul.

Erdoğan, who suffered one of the heaviest blows in his political career when İmamoğlu was elected as mayor in the 2019 local elections, based his party’s campaign in Istanbul on “making up for the lost years” and promises of “urban transformation”.

Erdoğan said towns and cities run by AKP mayors were best placed to deliver public and municipal services. It seems the voters were not convinced.

This time, İmamoğlu won again, with around 51% of votes to Kurum's 40%.

CHP mostly fought it alone, an early-stage alliance with İYİP and other smaller parties having collapsed after their joint efforts in the 2023 elections fell flat.

DEM—previously named HDP, and known as the party of the Kurds—fielded its own candidates, but many DEM supporters seem to have voted for CHP.

The religious YRP (New Welfare Party) scored some success with around 6% of votes and emerged as an actor to be reckoned with.

Time for remedies

Unless there is an early election for some reason, Turkey now has four years before its citizens are asked to vote again.

In a country increasingly characterised by political division, dislike, and distrust, that feels like a long time.

President Erdoğan failed to get a fresh vote of confidence, but he may have managed to convince his core supporters to override their concerns over issues like the economy and give him these next four years to find the remedies.

CHP supporters celebrate outside the main municipality building in Istanbul on 31 March 2024 after the Party's victory in local elections.

If he has, Erdoğan may think that gives him enough time to sort the problems. This is what he promised his supporters in a speech just after midnight, acknowledging the election results and the party's defeat.

His big issues are bringing down inflation, improving living conditions, changing the constitution, and solving the "Kurdish issue".

Many of Turkey's macroeconomic indicators are within the range of averages with other rich world nations.

Yet inflation levels of 67%, alongside other economic and financial problems, are taking their toll on the Turkish people.

Structural deficiencies in the political and economic system are said to be among main reasons that have kept foreign investors away.

Lining up an extension

Beyond the economy, President Erdoğan wants to tinker with the constitution yet again, despite having done so several times already.

He argues that it is a remnant of the past and an obstacle to progress, as he did when he changed the political system from parliamentary to presidential.

A few weeks ago, Erdoğan said this would be the last election under his presidency, because the constitutional limit is two terms.

Party loyalists immediately pointed to Article 116 which stipulates that if parliament decides to hold elections before the president's second term ends, the incumbent president can stand again.

Devlet Bahçeli, leader of MHP (Nationalist Action Party), called Erdoğan "the savior of the nation" and called on him "not to leave the Turkish nation alone in its walk".

Erdoğan said this would be the last election under his presidency, given the constitutional two-term limit, but allies urge him "not to leave".

Followers of Turkish politics all assume that the process to let Erdoğan run again has already been activated, with 360 parliamentary deputies (out of the total of 600) needed to trigger Article 116.

The AKP-MHP bloc is 47 seats short of the number they need to do so, meaning that Erdoğan will have to find new political friends if he wants to run again.

In their search for votes, Erdoğanists are most likely to have their sights on Kurds, conservatives of different shades, and nationalists in the opposition.

However, it is noteworthy that the results of this week's local elections show that many MHP and DEM supporters voted for CHP. 

Is İmamoğlu the man?

The election results have boosted morale within the CHP, and with his second victory in İstanbul, many now think Ekrem İmamoglu is the most likely candidate to challenge Erdoğan in 2028.

Yet İmamoğlu faces two main challenges. One comes from within his own party, the other may come from Erdoğan.

Istanbul's CHP mayor Ekrem Imamoglu makes a speech in front of supporters after winning over the city for the second time.

Within the CHP, recently elected leader Özgür Özel is currently taking the plaudits, since it is he who can claim to have led his party to victory in the local elections. So, İmamoğlu's elevation to crown prince is not a given.

The other question is whether the Erdoğan government lets İmamoğlu run İstanbul, or whether it blocks the municipality's legislative and administrative powers, while constraining its budget and its access to finance.

Furthermore, legal cases against İmamoğlu that have been brought by the government could end up with him serving jail time and being stripped of his mayoral title.

This would appear nakedly political, but President Erdoğan has shown in the past that he is prepared to do what is necessary to secure power, even if those actions and measures appear drastic or extreme.

One thing is for sure: Turkish politics certainly looks set to remain lively for the foreseeable future.

font change

Related Articles