Turkish elections: The opposition declares its victory in Istanbul and Ankara

  • Written by Paul Kirby and Kagil Kasapoglu
  • In London and Istanbul

Image source, Reuters/Umit Bektaş

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Opposition supporters in Istanbul and other cities celebrated as the scale of the victory became clear

Turkey's main opposition party announced its victory in the presidential elections held in the main cities of Istanbul and Ankara.

Ekrem Imamoglu, who became the opposition mayor of Istanbul for the first time in 2019, said, “The picture makes us very happy.”

A year after Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured his third term as president, he made it his goal to reclaim the city where he grew up and became mayor.

But the night belonged to the main opposition as they edged closer to victory.

It is worth noting that the secular CHP was also on track to win in several other major cities in Turkey, including Izmir, Bursa, Adana and the resort town of Antalya.

The result was a heavy blow to the man who has led Turkey for the past 21 years. This was the first time since he came to power that his party, the Justice and Development Party, was defeated across the country at the polls.

President Erdogan (70 years old) acknowledged that the elections did not take place as they had hoped, but he told his supporters in Ankara that it “will not represent the end for us, but rather a turning point.”

He led his party's election campaign in Istanbul, pledging to start a new era in Turkey's largest city.

But after 85% of the votes were counted in the city, Imamoglu advanced by more than 10 points over his rival from Erdogan's Justice and Development Party.

In the capital, Ankara, his colleague in the secular opposition Republican People's Party, Mansur Yavaş, was so far ahead of his rival with 59% that he declared victory when less than half of the votes had been counted. Supporters closed all main roads in the city, waving flags and honking their car horns.

Image source, Tolga Bozoglu/EPA-EFI

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Ekrem Imamoglu won Istanbul from the opposition in 2019

Party leader Ozgur Ozil praised the voters who decided to change the face of Turkey in a historic vote: “They want to open the door to a new political climate in our country.”

Crowds gathered in Istanbul, a major city with a population of about 16 million, outside one of the main municipal buildings. They waved Turkish flags and banners showing a picture of Imamoglu alongside Turkey's founding father Kemal Ataturk, whose poster was hung on the walls of the local authority building.

“I can say that our citizens’ trust and faith in us have been rewarded,” Imamoglu said.

He and Mansur Yavaş are considered potential candidates to run for president in 2028.

Imamoglu's supporters chanted “Everything will be fine” as they danced to drums and clarinet in Saracane, one of Istanbul's oldest neighbourhoods.

The current mayor of Istanbul used this slogan for the first time when he won the city from Erdogan's party five years ago. Some signs in Sarachan used its current slogan, “Full Speed ​​Forward.”

Imamoglu's supporter, Yesim Albayrak, 25, told the BBC: “It's just a local election, but the opposition's victory in the big cities is a big show of strength against the ruling party.”

Mehmet Pankashi, 27, told the BBC that there was a need for change in Turkey: “If Imamoglu or Mansur Yavaş had been the CHP candidate in last year’s presidential elections, they would have definitely won.”

Five years ago, Imamoglu overthrew years of AKP rule in Istanbul with the support of other opposition parties. But opposition unity collapsed following last year's presidential election defeat, and the AKP had high hopes of overturning its 2019 victory.

The city hosts a fifth of Türkiye's population of about 85 million people. Rule Istanbul and you will control much of Turkey's economy including trade, tourism, and finance.

Before Sunday's election, the vote was seen as very close, with the incumbent mayor facing a strong challenge from AKP candidate Murat Kurum.

But the ruling party was unable to get rid of the economic crisis that saw inflation rates rise to 67% and interest rates to 50%.

Erdogan's Justice and Development Party achieved more success in the southeastern regions devastated by the double earthquake that occurred in February 2023. It is leading in the cities of Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep.

About 61 million Turks are eligible to participate in Sunday's elections, and more than a million young voters cast their ballots for the first time. Participation was estimated at more than 76% across the country's 81 provinces.

Image source, Murat Kulu/PPO/Bulletin

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Sunday's vote is seen as a test of President Erdogan's popularity after 21 years in power

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