Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP party have faced a test of sentiment in nationwide local elections. Around 61 million people in 81 provinces are called upon to elect mayors, municipal councilors and other local politicians.

Around ten months after Erdogan’s re-election, it is eagerly awaited whether the Islamic conservative AKP will succeed in winning back the metropolis of Istanbul and the capital Ankara from the opposition. In Istanbul, the country’s economic and cultural center, a neck-and-neck race is expected between AKP candidate Murat Kurum (47) and incumbent mayor Ekrem Imamoglu (53) from the center-left CHP party. In the southeast of the country, a deadly incident overshadowed the vote.

Election under difficult circumstances

The national election is taking place under difficult circumstances: high inflation could cost Erdogan’s party votes. Many are struggling with rising food prices and skyrocketing rents; According to a survey, many young people would like to leave the country. The opposition, which ran as an alliance in the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2023, is considered divided and is no longer running as a united body.

Imamoglu wrested power in Istanbul from Erdogan’s ruling AKP in 2019, ending 25 years of rule 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. Erdogan’s political rise began in Istanbul when he was elected mayor in 1994.

When he cast his vote on Sunday, Erdogan said he hoped the election would mark the beginning of a “new era.” 20 percent of all votes are cast in Istanbul.

Should Imamoglu win again, his position as a possible future presidential candidate will be strengthened. However, if the AKP candidate wins, observers warn that Erdogan could feel encouraged to explore new limits. He could therefore seek a constitutional change in order to secure another term in office, which the current constitution prohibits.

Great importance for the Kurdish minority

The election is also important for the future of the Kurdish minority in the country. The pro-Kurdish party DEM is hoping for election victories in the southeast, where it traditionally has strong support but faces a strong AKP. The party had won 65 mayoral positions under the name HDP in the last local elections – but the government in Ankara had the majority of politicians removed from office due to terrorism allegations and replaced by receivers. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish party of terrorist connections, which it rejects.

One person was killed and 11 others injured in the southeastern Turkish metropolis of Diyarbakir on Sunday after a dispute over the election of a community leader escalated, state news agency Anadolu reported.

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 that in the southeastern Turkish province of Sanliurfa, government officials 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 are also supposed to ensure an orderly process. Shortly before the vote, the Oy ve Ötesi 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.

The polling stations are open until 3:00 p.m. CEST in the east of the country and until 4:00 p.m. CEST in the west. The first official results are expected later on Sunday evening.