Erdogan battles key rival in Turkey's local elections

Istanbul Mayor Imamoglu dealt Erdogan and his AK Party the biggest electoral blow of two decades in power with his win in the 2019 vote

Published : 31 March 2024, 03:07 AM
Updated : 31 March 2024, 03:07 AM

Turks vote on Sunday in nationwide municipal elections focused on President Tayyip Erdogan's bid to reclaim control of Istanbul from major rival Ekrem Imamoglu, who aims to reassert the opposition as a political force after bitter election defeats last year.

Istanbul Mayor Imamoglu dealt Erdogan and his AK Party the biggest electoral blow of two decades in power with his win in the 2019 vote. The president struck back in 2023 by securing re-election and a parliament majority with his nationalist allies.

Sunday's votes could now reinforce Erdogan's control of NATO-member Turkey, or signal change in the major emerging economy's divided political landscape. An Imamoglu win is seen fuelling expectations of him becoming a future national leader.

Polling stations open at 7 am in eastern Turkey, with voting elsewhere starting at 8 am and ending at 5 pm. Initial results are expected by 10 pm.

Polls suggest a tight race in Istanbul, a city of 16 million people that drives Turkey's economy, where Imamoglu faces a challenge from AKP candidate Murat Kurum, a former minister.

The results are likely to be shaped in part by economic woes driven by rampant inflation near 70%, and by Kurdish and Islamist voters weighing up the government's performance and their hopes for political change.

Imamoglu's 2019 election win dealt blow to president

Erdogan reinvigorated by election victories last year

Istanbul mayor's future prospects seen hinging on vote

Kurdish, Islamist voters could have key impact on outcome

While the main prize for Erdogan is Istanbul, he also seeks to win back the capital Ankara. Both cities were won by the opposition in 2019 after being under the rule of his AKP and Islamist predecessors for the previous 25 years.

Erdogan's prospects have been helped by the collapse of the opposition alliance that he defeated last year, though Imamoglu still appeals to voters beyond his main opposition Republican People's Party.

Voters of the main pro-Kurdish party were crucial to Imamoglu's 2019 success. Their DEM party this time is fielding its own candidate in Istanbul, but many Kurds are expected to put aside party loyalty and vote for him again.

In the mainly Kurdish southeast, DEM is looking to reaffirm its strength after the state unseated pro-Kurdish party mayors following previous elections over alleged ties to militants.

One factor working against Erdogan is a rise in support for the Islamist New Welfare Party due to its hardline stance against Israel over the Gaza conflict and dissatisfaction with the Islamist-rooted AKP's handling of the economy.