“Unfortunately, we did not achieve the results we wanted,” Erdogan told an unusually quiet crowd at his AKP’s headquarters in Ankara. He will “respect the nation’s decision.”

Shortly before, the incumbent mayor of the largest city, Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, announced his re-election. “We are in first place with a lead of more than a million votes,” he told reporters. “We won the election,” he added, explaining that 96 percent of the ballot boxes had been counted.

Imamoglu’s supporters had previously flocked to the city administration headquarters. The 52-year-old CHP politician surprisingly won the mayoral election in the metropolis in 2019.

In Ankara, the incumbent mayor Mansur Yavas of the CHP also declared himself the winner of the election. He told a cheering crowd that “those who were ignored have sent a clear message to those who run this country.”

CHP leader Özgür Özel said “voters voted to change the face of Turkey.” He added: “They want to open the door to a new political climate in our country.”

In addition to Izmir, the CHP stronghold and third-largest city in the country, and Antalya in southern Turkey – where opposition supporters celebrated the victory in the streets – the CHP also had a spectacular success in Anatolia. According to almost final results, the opposition party was also ahead in some provincial capitals long dominated by the AKP.

President Erdogan, who has been in power for 21 years, had made retaking the mayoralty of Istanbul for his AKP a main goal of the local elections. Before Imamoglu’s election victory in 2019, Istanbul had been in the hands of the AKP and its predecessor parties for 25 years.

The loss of the town hall in the economic metropolis of Istanbul in 2019 is considered one of Erdogan’s worst election defeats. He himself was mayor of the city with over a million inhabitants in the 1990s before he came to power at the national level in 2003, first as Prime Minister and since 2014 as President. Last year, Erdogan was confirmed in office for a third and, according to current law, last mandate.

However, in several large cities in Anatolia such as Konya or Erzurum and on the Black Sea coast – strongholds of Erdogan – the AKP candidates remained ahead. The pro-Kurdish DEM party achieved a comfortable lead in several large cities in Turkey’s Kurdish southeast, including Diyarbakir.

Overall, the defeat in the local elections in Turkey could have far-reaching consequences for Erdogan’s AKP – especially in Istanbul. Mayor Imamoglu is increasingly seen as the AKP’s main rival ahead of the next presidential election in 2028.