Turkey's election results could complicate Erdogan's austerity measures

The President's support base appears to have stayed at home in protest over his economic policies

Erdogan accepts Turkey local elections defeat

Erdogan accepts Turkey local elections defeat
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Ordinary Turkish voters were left stunned following the conclusion of the local elections over the weekend.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) clinched 37.7 per cent of the nationwide votes, amassing 17.3 million votes, while the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) secured 35.5 per cent, totaling 16.3 million votes, according to the preliminary results released by the semi-official Anadolu Agency.

This marks an astonishing victory for Turkey’s opposition, the first of its kind since 1977. They captured the five largest cities in the country and garnered the highest number of votes nationwide.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan conceded defeat and acknowledged that it’s time for some soul searching. “Turkish democracy once again proved itself and we had some setbacks we didn’t hope for. We will listen to the people’s will and self-critique ourselves on our mistakes.”

CHP was expected to secure victories in the three largest cities where it already held power: Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. But the opposition surpassed expectations by securing wins in significant AKP strongholds across Anatolia, relegating it to the position of the second leading party in Turkey for the first time since its inception.

How did Mr Erdogan’s party experience such a significant setback less than a year after a major victory in the presidential election?

The impact of hyperinflation on rising living costs has caused dissatisfaction among many Turks

An AKP insider shed light on the notable disparity between last weekend’s vote and the one in May last year, saying: “While the majority of Turkish voters express a desire for President Erdogan to continue leading the country and endorse his leadership, it has become clear that many are also disillusioned with certain aspects of his policies.”

Mr Erdogan pursued populist economic policies in the run-up to last year’s election – such as increasing the minimum wage and pensions, and eliminating a retirement age requirement – but his economic team signalled a commitment to austerity measures and an orthodox monetary policy ahead of the local elections.

The impact of hyperinflation on rising living costs has caused dissatisfaction among many Turks, leading to a decline in their living standards. It appears there hasn’t been a significant voter shift from AKP to CHP, but rather that a considerable number of AKP voters have chosen not to vote, instead, in a silent boycott. The turnout for this election was 78.1 per cent – almost 6 per cent less than for the 2019 vote.

Following CHP’s triumph, smaller parties within the opposition bloc – such as the Democracy and Progress Party, Future Party, IYI Party and Victory Party – experienced resounding defeats, relegating them to near-insignificance in the political landscape. Moreover, Kurdish voters opted to support CHP candidates in metropolitan areas instead of those from the pro-Kurdish Democrat Party, resulting in a low turnout in Kurdish-dominated regions of the country.

Another notable outcome of the elections is the emergence of the New Welfare Party (YRP), founded as recently as 2018, which swiftly rose to become the third-largest party in the country, securing 6 per cent of the nationwide votes, totaling 2.8 million votes.

With its Islamist and far-right tilt, the YRP ran a campaign against the AKP, criticising the government’s failure to sever ties with Israel over the Gaza war, its decision to increase interest rates, and its endorsement of vaccination efforts. YRP effectively siphoned votes away from the AKP, bolstering the success of CHP candidates in numerous cities and districts.

According to several AKP insiders, Mr Erdogan will persist with austerity measures and orthodox economic policies, while keeping the current economic management team in place. However, an overhaul within the party leadership is expected.

Meanwhile, the opposition is jubilant. An adviser to Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, seen as the primary rival to Mr Erdogan in the 2028 presidential election, said: “Two trends collided: firstly, a deep wave of dissatisfied AKP voters left their party, and secondly, a new wave of voters joined CHP after the change in leadership.”

The election of Ozgur Ozel as the new CHP leader also seems to have revitalised the party, as Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s tenure ended after a series of election losses since 2010. Not only will the opposition benefit from a morale boost after these elections, but it will also enjoy increased monetary and non-monetary resources for better campaigning in the long run.

Mr Erdogan’s legitimacy won’t be significantly hampered by these elections, but a buoyed opposition could make governing even more challenging for him, particularly when it comes to unpopular austerity measures.

Published: April 01, 2024, 3:00 PM