Sinan Goksen:  Why voters showed a yellow card to Erdogan in local elections?

Why did Erdoğan and his AKP, which emerged victorious from the elections in May 2023, suffer defeat 11 months later?

It is also possible to ask this question as follows: Were the March 31 elections won by the CHP and the opposition, or did the AKP lose? In other words, did voters prefer the promises and programs of the opposition parties, or did they punish the AKP?


Both have happened. Probably in previous elections, a significant mass of voters could have broken away from the AKP, but there was no opposition party, no “other option” to give them the courage to do so.


The CHP underwent a change of leadership after May 2023. On November 5, 2023, the Party held its Congress and delegates elected Özgür Özel, a young and ambitious politician, to replace Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who had led the party for 13 years. Kılıçdaroğlu had lost all his electoral races against Erdoğan. His last defeat was in the May 2023 elections and the CHP said “enough is enough”.


Özgür Özel quickly moved the party to a more leftist line, gave his cadres “hope for power”, took clear positions on the issues occupying people’s agenda and took the opposition to the streets when necessary. This dynamism and active opposition created hope not only among the CHP base but also among the “discontented” masses looking for an alternative.

Of course, the change in the CHP was not the only factor in the AKP’s defeat. The collapsed economy, inflation approaching 100 percent, the breathtaking increase in prices and the erosion of salaries, rapid impoverishment, corruption files that could no longer be covered up, constant interference in lifestyles, in short, “bad governance” were in fact the main reasons for the AKP’s loss of votes. The economic collapse was compounded by 22 years of absolute power, which had been accompanied by the brutality and recklessness, the almost complete detachment from the people and the problems of the street, and the spoiled and reckless behavior of the small privileged groups that had been created. It was at this point that the CHP was able to present itself as an alternative with the right and appropriate dynamism.


Of course, the success of the CHP mayors who have been governing Istanbul and Ankara since 2019 also contributed significantly to the CHP’s victory. As a result, the CHP was able to become an address for those who wanted to “teach the AKP a lesson”.


According to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK), Turkey’s population reached 85 327 000 by the end of 2023. According to the results of the March 31 elections, only 25 percent of this population now lives in municipalities run by the AKP, while 75 percent is controlled by the opposition.


The population living in CHP municipalities is approximately 52 million. In other words, 60.65 percent of Turkey’s population lives in municipalities governed by the CHP. In the 2019 elections, this rate was 48.4 percent.


In other words, more than 2/3 of the national wealth now is produced in cities controlled by opposition parties. It is safe to say that this phenomenon will deeply affect the balance between central government (controlled by Erdoğan) and local government.


The loss of control in major municipalities presents practical challenges for the AKP. Local governments in Turkey have significant influence over urban planning, infrastructure projects, and social services. With opposition parties now in control of these municipalities, there may be increased scrutiny and challenges to the central government’s policies. This could lead to more transparent and accountable governance at the local level, as well as potential conflicts between local and national authorities.


Turkey’s economy has been under strain in recent years, with high inflation, unemployment, and a depreciating currency. The election results could impact economic policies and investor confidence. Opposition-led municipalities might implement new economic strategies aimed at improving local economies, potentially offering a counter-narrative to the AKP’s approach. However, political instability and potential clashes between local and central governments could also deter foreign investment and complicate economic recovery efforts.


Erdoğan’s defeat may embolden civil society and grassroots movements. Over the years, there has been increasing concern about the erosion of democratic norms and freedoms in Turkey. The success of opposition parties in the local elections could revitalize efforts to protect and expand civil liberties. This shift might also lead to a more vibrant and pluralistic public discourse, as opposition-led municipalities promote diverse cultural and social initiatives.


Erdoğan’s defeat in the local elections raises questions about the long-term viability of his leadership and the AKP’s dominance. While Erdoğan remains a formidable political figure, the election results suggest that his hold on power is weakening. This could set the stage for more competitive national elections in the future, with opposition parties gaining momentum and potentially posing a serious challenge to Erdoğan’s presidency.



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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.