The Boston Globe

Opposition wins big in Turkey elections

Local victories seen as check on Erdogan’s control

- By Ben Hubbard

ISTANBUL — Last May, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey handily secured another term as head of state, shattering the morale of the political opposition and raising fears among his critics that his hold on the government would enable him to further edge Turkey toward autocracy.

This weekend, the opposition struck back.

Erdogan’s opponents secured a surprising string of victories in local elections across Turkey on Sunday, increasing the number of the country’s cities under their control and further ensconcing them in most of the major metropolis­es.

Those opposition victories could serve as a check on Erdogan’s power at home, analysts said, while enabling rising opposition stars to wield the large budgets of major cities to build their profiles before the next presidenti­al election, expected in 2028.

Turkey’s largest opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, won 37.8 percent of the vote, its highest share since 1977, according to preliminar­y results from the state-run news agency Anadolu. Erdogan’s Justice and Developmen­t Party won 35.5 percent, the agency reported, its worst showing in local elections since the party was founded more than 20 years ago.

The results were a blow to Erdogan, 70, who has been Turkey’s predominan­t politician for more than two decades. He has used his power as prime minister and then president to expand the role of Islam in public life and to build Turkey’s status as an economic and military player, sometimes in ways that have exasperate­d the United States and Turkey’s other NATO allies.

Erdogan’s critics accuse him of pushing the country toward one-man rule by cowing the news media and co-opting government institutio­ns to serve his party’s interests. His defenders deny that he is an aspiring autocrat, pointing to his long history of success in elections that are widely regarded as free.

But the performanc­e of Erdogan’s party Sunday showed that many voters were unhappy, analysts said, particular­ly with his stewardshi­p of the economy. A yearslong cost of living crisis has weakened the national currency, and sky high inflation has eaten away at the value of Turks’ paychecks and savings accounts.

For years, Erdogan insisted on lowering interest rates to stimulate growth, even when inflation soared above 80 percent in late 2022.

“Many government voters were disillusio­ned by the fact that they kept voting for Erdogan but didn’t experience any kind of real improvemen­t in their living standards,” said Berk Esen, an associate professor of political science at Sabanci University in Istanbul.

That apparently caused some supporters of Erdogan’s party to stay home, contributi­ng to opposition wins that Esen called “really phenomenal.”

Turnout was 78 percent, down from 87 percent during the presidenti­al and parliament­ary elections last May, according to the Turkish Supreme Election Council.

The Republican People’s Party increased the number of cities it runs to 35, from 21, out of a total of 81. The party’s mayors now control six of the country’s 10 largest cities, including the top five: Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Bursa, and Antalya.

According to the preliminar­y results, Erdogan’s party took one major city from the opposition, Hatay, which was heavily damaged by powerful earthquake­s in February 2023 that killed more than 53,000 people.

Official results are expected from the election council in the coming days.

 ?? YASIN AKGUL/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES ?? Republican People’s Party supporters celebrated victories in Istanbul on Sunday. A man (left), held a portrait of candidate Mansur Yavas, who has a solid lead in the count.
YASIN AKGUL/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES Republican People’s Party supporters celebrated victories in Istanbul on Sunday. A man (left), held a portrait of candidate Mansur Yavas, who has a solid lead in the count.

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