Espreso. Global

Erdogan's party loses elections for first time in 22 years. Why?

2 April, 2024 Tuesday

In short: Atatürk advances, the Sultan retreats


Erdogan's political force, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), was defeated in local elections by the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) for the first time since 2002. The AKP retained control of Istanbul and Ankara and won 15 mayoralty positions in other key cities. The CHP won the elections for the first time in 47 years.

This result reflects the trend of recent elections.

The AKP was losing support in the local elections, despite all of Erdogan's steps to build a dictatorship. In 2014, the AKP gained 43%, the CHP - 26%, in 2019 the gap narrowed to 12% - 42% to 30%. Yesterday, the CHP gained 37%, Erdogan's party - 36%.

Why did the opposition increase its numbers? A year ago, on May 23, Erdogan won the second round of the presidential election 52 to 47. But then he defeated the unpopular old leader of the Republican People's Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu (75 years old). But after losing the presidential election, he resigned as leader. Back in November 2023, the CHP elected Özel Özgür (49), the leader of the parliamentary opposition, as its new leader.

In addition, the mayoral election in Istanbul was again won by the man who was supposed to be Erdogan's rival a year ago, Ekrem Imamoglu. But in 2022, a political prosecution was initiated against him, which resulted in his being sentenced to 2 years in prison. He was also banned from politics, and therefore did not run for office. That's why Kilicdaroglu was nominated. But Imamoglu succeeded in his appeal, and in 2023 he was acquitted.

Thanks to his victory in Istanbul, Imamoglu is once again the main contender for the opposition's candidacy in the 2028 presidential election.

The fundamental reasons for the loss of popularity of Erdogan's party are the economic crisis and fatigue from 20 years of rule, which are exacerbated by Turkish demographics. In general, Erdogan managed to build an electoral autocracy similar to early Putin: he closed or seized the media, forced oppositionists out of the country, and minimized the political role of the army (especially after the failed or even self-inspired "military coup" of 2016). He relied on Islamic conservatives, and later on the Euroscepticism of a large part of society.

But both last year's elections and the elections now prove that something is going "wrong." Erdogan failed to level democratic institutions, although he tried very hard. Why?

  1. Turkey is a young country (the average age is 30 years, while in Ukraine and Russia it is over 40). Young people are the basis of economic development, urbanization, and westernization. And although the share of religious conservative youth in Turkey is significant, the vast majority is still secular.
  2. Man-made economic crisis. Erdogan's intervention in the economy after 2018 and pressure on the central bank provoked a record surge in inflation (60+%), devaluation of the lira, and impoverishment of a large part of Turks. This irritates and undermines the authority of the government. And no, Erdogan is not the father of the "Turkish economic miracle." It is Turgut Özal, who died in 1993. It was he who carried out key reforms and established the necessary institutions.
  3. Integration with the West. It is difficult to explain to millions of Turks who are part of the global economy that Erdogan's attempts to be the leader of the Islamic and Turkic world and to curtail secular institutions are better than Westernization.
  4. Ethnic and religious diversity. The AKP has always lost elections in Kurdish regions. In addition, in recent years, the party has been steadily losing the support of Alevis (a branch of Islam, approximately 20% of the population), who do not fit into Erdoganism's idea of correct Sunni Islam.

No, this failure in the local elections does not mean that the Erdogan regime or its ideology is doomed to defeat in the 2028 parliamentary and presidential elections. Because his ideas are still popular (the gap is minimal), his control over the media (which is much more important in national elections) has not gone away, and he still has the administrative capacity to persecute the opposition. But autocracy in Turkey is very vulnerable, and this is a good signal.


About the author. Yuriy Bohdanov, publicist, specialist in strategic communications in business, public administration and politics

The editors do not always share the opinions expressed by the authors of the blogs.

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