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As reported by Reuters, the opposition emerged as a strong political force, with Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu solidifying his position as Erdogan’s main rival.

Imamoglu led by a significant margin in the mayoral race in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, with the Republican People’s Party (CHP) also securing victories in Ankara and 15 other cities. This electoral outcome represents a major setback for Erdogan and the AK Party, signalling a shift in Turkey’s political landscape.

Erdogan referred to it as a “turning point” in a speech delivered after midnight.

Moreover, this election was widely viewed as a gauge of President Erdogan’s popularity as he aimed to regain control of crucial urban regions previously lost to the opposition in elections five years ago. The CHP’s previous victories in Ankara and Istanbul in 2019 had significantly diminished Erdogan’s perception of invulnerability.

As reported by AP, the main battleground for the 70-year-old Turkish president was Istanbul, a city of 16 million people where he was born and raised and where he began his political career as mayor in 1994.

Also Read: Turkey’s Erdogan offers to host a peace summit with Russia during a visit from Ukraine’s Zelenskyy

A strong showing for Erdogan’s ruling Islamic-oriented Justice and Development Party, or AKP, would likely harden his resolve to usher in a new constitution — one that would reflect his conservative values and allow him to rule beyond 2028 when his current term ends, AP reported citing analysts.

For the opposition — divided and demoralized after a defeat in last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections — keeping Istanbul and Ankara would be a major boost and help remobilize supporters.

Some 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 neighborhood administrations.

Turnout is traditionally high in Turkiye, but this time the vote comes against the backdrop of a cost-of-living crisis. Observers said disillusioned opposition supporters could opt to stay home, doubting that the election will change things. Governing party supporters, meanwhile, could also choose not to go to the polls in protest at the economic downturn that has left many struggling to pay for food, utilities and rent.

Some 594,000 security personnel were on duty across the country to ensure the vote goes smoothly. Nevertheless, one person was killed and eleven others were hurt in the city of Diyarbakir where a dispute over the election of a neighbourhood administrator turned violent, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Also Read: Israel recalls diplomats, asks citizens to leave Turkey after Erdogan decries ‘war crimes’ in Gaza

At least six people were also injured in fighting that erupted in the nearby province of Sanliurfa.

“According to the data we have obtained, it seems our citizens’ trust in us, their faith in us has paid off,” Imamoglu said of the early results.

Polls had pointed to a close race between Istanbul’s incumbent mayor, Imamoglu, and the AKP’s candidate Murat Kurum, a former urbanization and environment minister.

Imamoglu — a popular figure touted as a possible future challenger to Erdogan — ran without the support of some of the parties that helped him to victory in 2019.

Both the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the nationalist IYI Party put forward their own candidates for the election. However, a six-party opposition coalition led by the CHP fell apart after it was unsuccessful in removing Erdogan from power in the previous year’s election.

The coalition struggled to take advantage of the economic downturn and the government’s initially inadequate response to the earthquake tragedy that claimed over 53,000 lives last year.

Also Read: ‘We would be proud…’ says Turkey President on India’s permanent UNSC seat

At the same time, the emergence of a new religious-conservative party, the New Welfare Party (YRP), has attracted voters disenchanted with Erdogan’s economic policies, potentially diverting some votes from his candidates.

In the predominantly Kurdish-populated southeast of Turkey, the Democratic Regions Party (DEM) appeared set to secure victories in numerous municipalities.

However, there is uncertainty regarding whether the party will be permitted to maintain control of these municipalities. In previous instances, Erdogan’s administration ousted elected pro-Kurdish mayors over alleged ties to Kurdish militants and replaced them with government-appointed trustees.

Erdogan, who has presided over Turkiye for more than two decades — as prime minister since 2003 and president since 2014 — has been advocating a new constitution that would put family values at the forefront. He does not have sufficient votes to enact a new constitution now, but a strong showing could allow him to woo some conservative, nationalist or Islamic legislators from the opposition camp for a needed two-thirds majority.

(With inputs from agencies)

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Published: 01 Apr 2024, 07:42 AM IST

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