Erdoğan Cold after historical losses in municipal elections

  • President Erdoğan’s party, AKP, loses 13 provinces in this year’s municipal elections.
  • AKP has lost the support of some of the moderate and conservative electorate.
  • Although the presidency retains its full power, the results reflect a significant popular discontent.
©Paul Morigi Photography | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Why is Erdoğan COLD?

Answer: The local elections on March 31 were the biggest defeat of the president’s career.

In the local elections on March 31 2024, Erdoğan and his party, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP), lost 13 provincial capitals compared to the 2019 elections and weren’t able to gain back support in the biggest metropolitan areas, Istanbul and Ankara. 

The loss of Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir reconfirms the trend of the 2023 presidential election, a shift of popular support from the AKP to the opposition in the major cities. But now, notably, other big urban centres, like Bursa, as well as many traditionally AKP-leaning regions are falling to the opposition too.

Moreover, four provinces saw a substitution of the AKP for more conservative parties that had previously aligned themselves with Erdoğan in the Cumhur İttifakı coalition for the 2023 presidential elections.

The AKP’s aim with these new elections was then to “take back the cities” but now the incumbent president faces 35 out of 81 Turkish provincial capitals under administrations from Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP), the main opposition party.

These are significant results. Indeed, local administrations of metropolitan municipalities, such as İstanbul, Ankara, İzmir, and Bursa, hold significant power in Türkiye. Additionally, just these four cities host almost 31%  of the country’s population and therefore offer a good indicator of how dissatisfied the Turkish population is with the AKP’s leadership. 

While Erdogan’s current heat level is considered to be cold it is important to note that it is not freezing. This is because even with these historical losses, Erdoğan still holds political power at the national level as the President. Moreover, his coalition and party hold the majority of Turkish parliamentary seats.

What is changing Erdoğan’s heat level?

Answer: Political miscalculations by the APK when facing persisting general discontent and an increasingly appealing opposition.

The first factor which has influenced these electoral results is the ongoing economic crisis, which started in 2018. With inflation rates still reaching 62% and a depreciation of the Turkish lira by 35% in 2023, the state of the economy has severely affected the majority of Turkish society.

After the 2023 elections, the dire economic situation was handled by the APK by resorting to orthodox economic policies. Many of the direct aids that the government employed before to curb the effects of inflation in 2021 were dismantled. However, this didn’t affect the fiscal situation, with inflation being still at almost 70%, and instead has alienated many traditional votes of the APK that relied on economic aids, such as retired people and low-income households.

Due to increasing critique, measures aimed at aiding these constituencies were introduced in 2024. However, these policies, such as the substantial increase in minimum wage and pensions, have yet to alleviate rising poverty discontent. The results of March 31 then are consistent with an electoral punishment on the APK’s incumbent government. 

Another factor that influenced the AKP’s results was the splitting of the conservative vote. Erdoğan has been criticised over his lack of sustained action against Israel by Islamist groups within its historical constituencies as well as by members of his 2023 electoral alliance, the Cumhur İttifakı.

In particular, after the Israeli response to the terrorist attack, Erdoğan has been very vocal on the war, calling Israeli actions genocidal and pursuing diplomatic pressure on Tel-Aviv. However, the president had refrained from more tangible actions, such as cutting trade, aside from supporting the UNRWA economically.
This lack of practical commitment created a deep polarisation within the AKP’s voters. Instead of the AKP, many chose to support the Yeniden Refah Partisi (YRP), a more conservative and Islamist party that campaigned on complete economic estrangement of Israel. This shift resulted in losing three districts to the YRP and splitting the conservative vote in many different regions, allowing the opposition to lead.

Lastly, the AKP lacked adequate candidates to face İmamoğlu in Istanbul and Yavaş in Ankara. Murat Kurum, the candidate in Istanbul, has only served as the Minister of Environment and Urbanization, lacks a strong voter base and is widely considered a technocrat. In Ankara, Turgut Altınok was instead involved in scandals over corruption.  Neither candidate was therefore approved by the former allies of the Cumhur İttifakı, which, especially when added to the YRP gain of traction over Gaza, further split the conservative vote.

What is driving Erdogan? 

Answer: Maintaining stability and ensuring a legacy for the AKP after Erdoğan concludes his last term are the leader’s key interests.

Although this might be Erdoğan’s last term due to constitutional constraints, as the president has also discussed publicly, the AKP represents his political legacy. This legacy is in peril after the 2024 local elections.

The AKP’s loss of voters has been a major point in Erdoğan’s agenda as the party loses the electorate in both its moderate and conservative constituencies. However, it’s the recent losses of conservative votes to former allies that have fundamentally been pushing Erdoğan’s recent policies. Although the losses of moderate voters did have an impact in both the 2019 and 2023 elections’ results, the splitting of the conservative vote, not present before, has had a much more disruptive effect on the AKP’s turnouts.

Erdoğan’s recent comments about a radical change of his policy towards Israel, with the promise to cut ties completely, as well as comments on the economy must be seen exactly in this light. Erdoğan is trying to maintain the conservative voters absorbed with the AKP’s increased nationalism, but this is becoming difficult when facing deep radicalization due to the current state of international affairs. The AKP’s agenda is out-bid on many focal interest points by other, more radical conservative parties, such as the Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP) and YRP, which are both rising in the polls, often absorbing dissatisfied APK voters.

Therefore, the AKP will likely have to resort to higher nationalism and Islamism to maintain this new and expanding constituency within its voters, a political tactic that Erdoğan’s party has used before, for example, in the 2023 presidential election.

What does this mean for you?

Answer: The elections have been regarded as a sign of a fracture in the AKP and a possible starting point for post-Erdoğan Türkiye

Although, as discussed before, the power of the municipalities is limited, and therefore fundamental policy change that mirrors the opposition’s ideas is unlikely, these elections are regarded as a possible sign of the beginning of a post-Erdoğan Türkiye. 

The elections signal a growing unrest within the AKP’s hold on both their moderate and conservative voters. The dissatisfaction of the population with Erdoğan’s rule has left space for the opposition as well as for more up-and-coming, far right-wing parties to rise.

The results of these changes in the political landscape have already impacted Erdoğan’s grip on power, as can be seen by the Turkish constitutional court declaring the extent of the president’s control over the Central Bank unconstitutional. This is particularly striking, as most of the judges have been appointed by the president himself and have until now ruled quite conservatively on his behalf. 

Internationally, the Republic of Türkiye is a fundamental stakeholder in many diplomatic talks and conflicts, such as those revolving around Syria or the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, as well as a fundamental strategic partner for Russia. Whether a post-Erdoğan equilibrium is characterised by a fragmented radical right which leaves much space for the CHP may have great repercussions on diplomatic efforts in the MENA and Balkan regions.

Article authored by: Chiara Ausenda


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