Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who’s held an iron grip on power for more than 15 years, suffered his first major election defeat Monday and it looks like he’s about to lose control of the country’s two biggest cities.
The electoral commission said that the opposition People's Republican Party (CHP) won more than 50 percent of the vote in the capital Ankara, meaning Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) will lose control of the city for the first time in 25 years.
But an even greater shock could be coming in Turkey's largest city Istanbul, where Erdoğan launched his political career and served as mayor in the 1990s. Preliminary results suggest the CHP edging out the AKP.
Erdogan’s candidate, the former prime minister Binali Yildirim, has not conceded defeat, but CHP’s Ekrem Imamoglu is so confident in his victory that he has already changed his Twitter bio to “Mayor of Istanbul.”
Erdogan appeared to concede defeat in Istanbul, in a speech to supporters in Ankara, claiming victory in some parts of the city. “Even if our people gave away the mayorship, they gave the districts to the AK Party,” he said.
Nationally, the AKP and its far-right coalition partner the Nationalist Movement Party have narrowly held onto an overall majority with 51 percent of the vote, but if CHP does take control of Istanbul, the party would then control Turkey’s three biggest cities, after holding onto control of Izmir.
“The people have voted in favor of democracy. They have chosen democracy," CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said.
Despite spending the last two months campaigning tirelessly, and having the support of a fawning media, Erdoğan’s economic failures have proven his downfall.
After years of rapid growth, Turkey’s economy has faltered in recent years and the country fell into recession int he final three months of 2018, after Turkey’s currency, the lira, lost up to 50 percent of its value during the year.
On Monday, the lira fell again in the wake of Monday’s election results.
Erdoğan said he would now focus on the economy in the lead-up to national elections scheduled for 2023. “We have a long period ahead where we will carry out economic reforms without compromising on the rules of the free-market economy,” he told reporters.
Erdoğan has dominated Turkish politics since being elected prime minister in 2003, and in 2017 he ushered in new laws that granted him sweeping new powers, seen by many as a power grab.
“The election today is as historic as the local election in 1994,” Rusen Cakir, a veteran commentator, said on Twitter, referring to the vote that saw Erdoğan elected as Istanbul’s mayor. “It’s the announcement of a page that was opened 25 years ago and is now being closed.”
Cover: Turkey's President and ruling Justice and Development Party leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan greets supporters after the results of the local elections were announced in Ankara, Turkey, early Monday, April 1, 2019. Erdogan's ruling party has declared victory in the race for mayor of Istanbul.(AP Photo/Ali Unal)