Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party suffered a major setback on Monday after local election results showed that the AK Party, which has ruled the country for a decade and a half, has lost the capital, Ankara and Istanbul, the country’s economy.
The loss of the two most important cities in the country is a resounding defeat for Erdogan, who was himself the mayor of Istanbul and who had an unprecedented power in Turkish history to win repeatedly in the elections.
Erdogan was heavily involved in the election campaign, portraying the municipal elections as a battle for life and death, but the ballot was a referendum on AKP rule after Turkey’s economy slowed for the first time in a decade.
The head of the Supreme Electoral Commission Saadi Goven said that the candidate of the opposition to take over the presidency of the Istanbul Municipality Ekrem Imamoglu tops the results by about 28 thousand votes with the counting of most of the votes.
Imamoglu received about 4.16 million votes, compared to 4.13 million for the AKP candidate, former Prime Minister Ben Ali Yildirim.
The two candidates announced their early victory following a frenzied race to head the municipality of the country’s largest city when preliminary results showed they were almost equal.
“We want to start working on serving the people as soon as possible”, Imamoglu told reporters on Monday.
We want to cooperate with all institutions in Turkey so that we can quickly meet the needs of Istanbul”.
In Ankara, opposition candidate for the presidency of the capital city council Mansour Yafash presented the candidate of the Justice and Development Party, Mohammad Oz Haski, with 50.89% of the vote against 47.06% after 99% of the ballot boxes were counted.
“Ankara won”, Yafash told his supporters, who waved red Turkish flags and fired firebombs during a festive gathering.
The loser in Ankara is Oz Haski, he lost the dirty policies and democracy won”.
Oz Haski said Monday that the ballot box should be “respected” but added that his party would appeal against “certain errors” committed at several polling stations.
“In the coming days, we’ll see how much this will affect the final result”.
Meanwhile, officials from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) said they would appeal to reconsider the validity of tens of thousands of votes deemed null in the two main cities.
“The party will challenge the results in Ankara”, said Fateh party secretary-general Fatih Shahin.
“The gap between the candidates will diminish and I think the outcome will eventually turn to us”.
In a speech to a crowd of supporters in Ankara, Erdogan made sure to highlight the positive results, noting that the coalition formed by his party with the Nationalist Movement (Nationalist Party) produced national results with more than 51 percent of the vote.
While he appeared to be receptive to the loss of some municipal posts, he didn’t directly refer to the results in Ankara or Istanbul.
“If there is any default, it is our duty to reform it”, Erdogan said.
“As of tomorrow morning, we will begin work on identifying and addressing our vulnerabilities”.
The loss of Istanbul is particularly sensitive to Erdogan, who grew up in Kassem Pasha district of the working-class city and has repeatedly told members of his party that winning in the city equals winning a full Turkey.
One of his supporters, former Prime Minister Yildirim, was nominated and held election rallies more than once a day in the neighborhoods of Istanbul.
“Istanbul is his heart and very important to him”, said Icy Iata, political science professor at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University.
It’s the first place they started (AK) to win”.
“There are two types of results in the elections.
Keep the majority with a total of 51 percent, which is very important. Otherwise, I would have asked questions about their legitimacy”.
But for his supporters, Erdogan still represents the strong leader they believe Turkey needs and refer to the country’s economic development under his party’s mandate.
During the election rallies with his supporters, the most conservative and religious Turks, Erdogan presented his opponents as enemies of the state, referring to the PKK guerrillas who fought a decades-long insurgency.
On the other side, human rights activists and Ankara’s Western allies assert that democracy has worsened in his era, especially after the failed coup of 2016, in which tens of thousands were arrested.
The AK Party has built its successes at the polls on what they see as Erdogan’s economic efficiency.
But days before the elections, the Turkish lira retreated back to memory of the crisis in the local currency in 2018, which was hurt by many Turkish families.
His style of managing the economy will be a key to the party’s success in the next few years before the next presidential and general elections in 2023.
The president told his supporters on Monday that attention would focus on economic and security reforms after local elections.
The finance minister said economic reforms would be announced next week.
“Erdogan must understand the reasons for these losses and will most likely insist on ensuring a certain level of economic growth until the next general election”, said Istanbul-based political scientist Imre Erdoğan, who is not affiliated with the president.
“The residents of the two cities have probably suffered the consequences of the economic downturn, which is reflected in the elections”.