Miserable results for the AKP: Why Turkish voters punish Erdogan so harshly

Miserable results for the AKP
Why Turkish voters punish Erdogan so harshly

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Almost a year after his victory in the presidential election, Turkish President Erdoğan wants to recapture Istanbul, Ankara and other cities for the AKP. But his candidates fail resoundingly. The experts agree on the cause.

Before the polling stations opened for the local elections in Turkey on Sunday, this sentence was repeated again and again: The polls are a mood test for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Islamic-conservative ruling party AKP. Erdoğan wanted to reinstate the mayor, especially in the country’s two largest cities, Istanbul and Ankara, and put the social democratic CHP in its place.

After counting more than 90 percent of the votes cast, it is clear: the mood test did not end well for Erdoğan. The results for the AKP are worse than they have been in 20 years. In Istanbul, 26 of the 39 city districts went to the CHP, in Ankara 16 of 25 districts. CHP mayors also won in Izmir, Adana and Antalya. While these victories were no surprise, the opposition also won several cities and provinces that were previously firmly in the hands of the AKP. These include the city of Bursa, which is considered to be extremely conservative, and Adiyaman, which was hit hard by the earthquake in 2023. Nationally, the CHP received 37 percent of the vote, compared to 36 percent for the president’s party.

Ten months after Erdoğan’s re-election as president, this is not good news for him. Erdoğan acknowledged defeat in a speech from the balcony of the presidential palace, saying the people had sent a “message” that his party would “analyze” through “courageous” self-criticism. Experts see the reasons for the clear vote primarily in high inflation and economic policy. The result “can only be explained by the economy,” wrote journalist Abdulkadir Selvi in ​​the pro-government newspaper “Hürriyet”. “A new wind” is blowing through Turkey.

Most recently, the inflation rate was more than 67 percent. In the meantime it had even climbed to 85 percent. The unemployment rate remains at around ten percent, and wage developments can hardly keep up with the rising cost of living. Many pensioners have to go back to work beyond the age of 70 in order to make ends meet. Poverty is becoming a real danger for many, with domestic media even reporting on too few meals a day. There is even talk of hunger.

Priority for the economy

According to the director of the Istanbul-based think tank Edam, Sinan Ülgen, voters wanted to punish the AKP for the poor economic situation. He emphasized that soaring inflation has meant that many Turkish households can no longer afford basic goods. AKP supporters therefore stayed at home or voted for other parties.

According to Ülgen, there were “cross-party shifts in voting, which did not occur in the National Council elections due to stronger ideological ties.” But this time the economy took precedence over identity. “The economy was the deciding factor,” said Hakan Akbas, a senior advisor at the Albright Stonebridge Group.

Compared to previous elections, voter turnout was also relatively low. Last year it was 87 percent, but now, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency, it is only 76 percent. The AKP also lost votes to the Islamist New Welfare Party, which was only founded in 2018. In the Gaza conflict, she took an even tougher stance towards Israel than Erdoğan.

Imamoglu is the bearer of hope

After the first results were announced, the secular, anti-government daily “Sözcü” announced a “revolution at the ballot box”, while the major opposition newspaper “Cumhuriyet” spoke of a “historic victory”. Political scientist Mert Arslanalp from Bogazici University in Istanbul described the outcome as Erdoğan’s “heaviest electoral defeat” since the former prime minister’s rise to power more than 20 years ago. The old and new mayor of Istanbul, the CHP politician Imamoglu, managed to appeal to voters across several groups in the deeply divided society. “This makes him the strongest rival to Erdoğan’s rule at the national level.”

This makes it increasingly likely that Imamoglu will run for president in the 2028 presidential election. “We will see a race between Imamoglu and Yavas (…),” commented “Hürriyet” journalist Selvi. “Imamoglu is Erdoğan’s opponent in the next national election,” wrote Soner Cagaptay from the Washington Institute at X. The mayor of Istanbul has “the chance to become president of Turkey.”

However, Erdoğan may feel pressured by the results to bring about the constitutional changes he wants soon and at any cost. The new constitution is intended to reflect his conservative values, prioritize family values ​​and allow him to rule beyond 2028.

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