In the local elections in Turkey, there are signs that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic conservative ruling party AKP is losing a lot of votes across the country. The opposition can also hope to retain control of the country’s most important cities, including the metropolis of Istanbul and the capital Ankara.

After around a third of the votes were counted, the largest opposition party CHP was just ahead of the AKP (around 37 percent) nationwide with around 39 percent, as the state news agency Anadolu reported, citing unofficial preliminary figures. In the previous local elections in 2019, the AKP received 44 percent of the vote. Unofficial results showed Erdogan’s AKP headed for defeat in the five most populous cities, including Istanbul and Ankara, according to the state agency. The first official results were expected later in the evening.

Deadly clashes in the southeast

Around 61 million people in 81 provinces were called upon to elect mayors, municipal councilors and other local politicians. The vote was seen as an important barometer of the mood and a pointer for the country’s political future. There were deadly clashes in the southeast in connection with the vote.

Erdogan’s main goal was to win back the metropolis of Istanbul with his AKP. Ekrem Imamoglu from the largest opposition party CHP wrested power in Istanbul from Erdogan’s ruling AKP in 2019, ending 25 years of government by Islamic conservative parties. The AKP had the election canceled at the time. In the second round, Imamoglu won by an even larger margin – the success is considered the most serious setback in Erdogan’s political career to date. Erdogan’s political rise began in Istanbul when he was elected mayor in 1994.

One person was killed and eleven others were injured in the southeastern Turkish metropolis of Diyarbakir after a dispute over the election of a community leader escalated, state news agency Anadolu reported. A dispute over the election also escalated in Siirt province and one person was killed.

Election under difficult circumstances

The high inflation rate and the economic situation are likely to have cost Erdogan’s party votes. The opposition, in turn, which ran as an alliance in the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2023, was considered divided and no longer ran as a unit.

The election campaign was considered unfair – a large part of the media in Turkey is under direct or indirect government control. No major voting irregularities were initially reported. The DEM party said officials in the southeastern Turkish province of Sanliurfa tried to vote at more than one ballot box. This was prevented and documented.

A delegation from the Council of Europe and the Left Party observed the elections on site. Thousands of volunteers were also supposed to ensure an orderly process. Shortly before the vote, the Oy ve Ă–tesi association said it had been able to recruit 30,000 people. That is more than in the local elections in 2019, but significantly less than in the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2023, for which 200,000 people registered as election workers.