Turkey’s Opposition Strikes Elections Blow to Erdogan’s Party

By John Mercury April 2, 2024

Last May, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey handily secured another term as head of state, shattering the morale of the political opposition and raising fears among his critics that his hold on the government would enable him to further edge Turkey toward autocracy.

This weekend, the opposition struck back.

Mr. Erdogan’s opponents secured a surprising string of victories in local elections across Turkey on Sunday, increasing the number of the country’s cities under their control and further ensconcing them in most of the major metropolises.

Those opposition victories could serve as a check on Mr. Erdogan’s power at home, analysts said, while enabling rising opposition stars to wield the large budgets of major cities to build their profiles before the next presidential election, expected in 2028.

Turkey’s largest opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, won 37.8 percent of the vote, its highest share since 1977, according to preliminary results from the state-run news agency Anadolu. Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party won 35.5 percent, the agency reported, its worst showing in local elections since the party was founded more than 20 years ago.

The results were a blow to Mr. Erdogan, 70, who has been Turkey’s predominant politician for more than two decades. He has used his power as prime minister and then president to expand the role of Islam in public life and to build Turkey’s status as an economic and military player, sometimes in ways that have exasperated the United States and Turkey’s other NATO allies.

Mr. Erdogan’s critics accuse him of pushing the country toward one-man rule by cowing the news media and co-opting government institutions to serve his party’s interests. His defenders deny that he is an aspiring autocrat, pointing to his long history of success in elections that are widely regarded as free.

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