International press coverage of Turkish local elections: All eyes on Istanbul

As Turkey heads to polls on Sunday, 31st of March to elect, mayors, aldermen and local assemblies, stakes  are extremely high. Another victory by Erdogan’s AKP-MHP alliance could end competitive democracy in Turkey, allowing the president to keep his post for life.  Erdogan elevated the mayoral elections for Istanbul   to the level of presidential elections, and his candidate appears to be losing according to recent polls.  A defeat in Istanbul could spell an end to Erdogan’s career in 2028, when his current term expires.


Bruised and fractured by Tayyip Erdogan’s victory in 2023 general elections, Turkey’s opposition aims to land a blow in Sunday’s local polls, with the future of its biggest hope, Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, tied to the outcome.

The nationwide municipal votes on March 31 could reinforce President Erdogan’s control after two decades running Turkey, or signal change in the NATO member’s deeply divided political landscape, comments Reuters.



“In 2019 when Erdogan and AK Party lost Istanbul, it was a big blow and it was a scratch on Erdogan’s reputation. Up until then he was unbeatable, invincible,” said Yetkin Report analyst Murat Yetkin, describing a win in Istanbul as vital for Erdogan.

“If he does so, that means that he will be able to extend and endorse his power to local administrations,” he said, with analysts saying Erdogan may then bid to change the constitution to enable him to stand as president again in 2028.

An Imamoglu victory would however revitalise the opposition, said political analyst Berk Esen of Sabanci University.


The National explains the importance of Istanbul to political competition in the year to come:  Istanbul’s importance means that whoever runs the city can establish a significant power base, observers say. If Mr Imamoglu is re-elected as mayor, he may well run in Turkey’s next presidential election scheduled for 2028.


“The person that rules Istanbul is generally able to establish himself a political base, which then translates into power at the national scale,” said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and director of Edam, an Istanbul-based think tank.


Hakan Akbas, a senior advisor at the Albright Stonebridge Group, described the elections as a “watershed moment, potentially reshaping the political map, influencing economic policy, and dictating the quality of urban life.”


“The stakes are high, as the outcomes could either solidify the AKP’s dominance or pave the way for a more pluralistic political landscape,” he said.


“In the key prizes of Ankara, Izmir and Istanbul, CHP candidates are ahead. Apropos Istanbul, three recent polls by Metropoll, SONAR, and PanaromaTR, all impartial, with the last two having recorded a better-than-average forecasting score in last May, indicate that Imamoglu is expanding the margin of his lead, to anywhere from 5 (SONAR) to 11 (Metropoll) percentage points in the final week, commented Global Source Partners Turkey analyst Atilla Yesilada.

“We are very confident that it is too late for AKP-MHP to rescue Ankara and Izmir. We are more confident than before that Imamoglu will keep his post”.

While there is still not a sufficiently large database to reach firm conclusions for the rest of the battleground cities, our sense is that those in West and Western coastal regions, which harbor most of the population and generate the wealth of the nation, namely, Adana, Antalya, Bursa and Eskisehir are too close to call. Going by the majority of polls, rather than averages, AKP could wrestle Eskisehir, Antalya and Hatay away from CHP, Atilla Yesilada added in a note to GSP clients.

On the negative side, it could lose Sanliurfa and Yozgat to NWP, while races in Bursa and Balikesir (held by AKP) are a dead heat.

At the end, it is natural for CHP to suffer some losses in major cities ex-the Big Three, because it runs a majority of them since 2019, with significant help from IYIP and informally from DEM, then named HADEP, neither of which is cooperating in this round. While Erdogan’s loss of Big Three can be mostly mitigated by a clean sweep of major cities mentioned above, it is difficult to say that he or his party will rejoice with smaller prizes. Erdogan made Istanbul the sole object of desire in the elections, and he shall rise or fall with the results in that city.


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Published By: Atilla Yeşilada

GlobalSource Partners’ Turkey Country Analyst Atilla Yesilada is the country’s leading political analyst and commentator. He is known throughout the finance and political science world for his thorough and outspoken coverage of Turkey’s political and financial developments. In addition to his extensive writing schedule, he is often called upon to provide his political expertise on major radio and television channels. Based in Istanbul, Atilla is co-founder of the information platform Istanbul Analytics and is one of GlobalSource’s local partners in Turkey. In addition to his consulting work and speaking engagements throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East, he writes regular columns for Turkey’s leading financial websites VATAN and and has contributed to the financial daily Referans and the liberal daily Radikal.