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Turkish citizens share sentiments on local election results

'The voters gave a very clear message': Turkish citizens share what local election results mean to them
9 min read
The New Arab speaks to Turkish citizens from different cities about their views on the recent local election and what the historic results mean for Turkey.

Turkey's 2024 local elections have continued to spark major discussions among citizens nearly three weeks after they cast their votes. 

The ruling AK Party (Justice and Development Party) and the main opposition CHP (Republican People’s Party) actively campaigned and promoted their candidates for three months before the big day. Then, on Sunday, March 31, Turkish citizens headed to the ballot boxes to cast their votes in each city of the country.

Ekrem İmamoğlu, Istanbul’s mayor, greets his supporters during a victory rally
on the night of March 31 
[Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality]

The results showed a decisive victory for CHP, particularly across the country's largest and most populated cities, including Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir.

For the first time in 47 years, CHP had taken over the majority of the local municipalities, securing 37.77% of the votes, while President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party conceded 35.49%.

So, what caused such a significant shift in Turkish society? 

Soli Özel, a political scientist and senior lecturer at Kadir Has University, believes that the new CHP leadership managed to touch the other side's electorate due to the AK Party voter base feeling alienated and fatigued with the current leadership. 

Seventy-five-year-old Huseyin Kopuz, a retired engineer from Istanbul, although not an AK Party supporter, confirmed this notion of citizens feeling exhausted with the leadership.  

"We are tired," he told The New Arab. "The retired population is tired, employees are tired, housewives are tired. Erdoğan and his party have pushed us to the level of second-class citizens."

According to Huseyin, President Erdoğan and his party did not fulfil their promises and instead have dug the country deeper into crisis. 

Feeling battered, many of the country's pensioners thus opted to vote for CHP, since the opposition had promised to provide benefits with their social projects, while they feel that the ruling AK Party has neglected their needs amidst a cost-of-living crisis and the soaring inflation rates in the country. 

“While he (Erdoğan) lives in palaces with hundreds of rooms, people cannot find a place to lay their heads down," Huseyin continued.

"Even finding just a single room to rent has become a problem. And if they get lucky in finding one, they cannot afford to pay for it.” 

Huseyin Kopuz, a 75-year-old retired engineer from Istanbul, sits in a traditional
Turkish coffee shop in Beşiktaş [Melisa Ishbitiren]

Ozer Sencar, the head of MetroPoll Strategic and Social Research Centre, believes that Erdoğan’s “deafness to the economic woes of his voters” lost him the election.

Ozer added that the Turkish President’s insistence on pushing the less popular candidates, such as former Urbanisation Minister, Murat Kurum and the Ankara candidate Turgut Altinok — who was criticised for owning more than 600 properties that he received rent money from — also contributed to the loss. 

“Erdoğan became everyone's rival to save these wrong candidates. If a leader becomes everyone's rival, he will be defeated in front of everyone,” Ozer suggested. 

Another voter, 52-year-old Ayse Pala from Ankara told The New Arab that although she is a supporter of the Turkish President and has voted for him in the general elections, she admires the CHP candidate, Mansur Yavaş — re-elected Mayor in the capital — for the work he did in his previous term. 

Ayse lost her husband four years ago and has since been supporting her two young sons on her own. She says she has struggled to support her family with her 10000 TL (309.36 USD) pension and the only help she could receive was from the municipality.

However, the Ankara Mayor's natural gas aid, red meat donations and assistance with her children’s school needs have made a great contribution to her finances so far.

“I was personally very pleased and was sure that he would win,” she tells The New Arab. “I feel that he has done good things for our city and I believe he is on everyone's side.”

One of the most unexpected administration changes occurred in the earthquake region, where the historically conservative city of Adiyaman elected a CHP candidate as their mayor.

Meanwhile, the city of Hatay elected an AKP mayor instead of CHP’s Lütfü Savaş, who ran the district of Antakya (in the Hatay province) for five years and was the province mayor for 10 years — but was this out of choice or out of fear? 

Hatay remains in ruins since the February 6, 2023, earthquake, with residents still living in containers with barely any access to clean drinking water and suffering from sporadic power blackouts, thus resulting in resentment towards Erdoğan’s administration for not providing any post-earthquake aid. 

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It was therefore expected that residents would oppose AKP leadership in their municipality. 

However, during one of the recent local election rallies in Hatay, President Erdoğan made a statement that left the locals worried about the future of their city.

“If the central government and local government do not join hands and are not in solidarity, nothing will come to that city. Did it come to Hatay? Look, Hatay remains alone at the moment,” he had said at the time.  

CHP posters hang on the banners through the street with re-elected CHP mayors of Beşiktaş and Istanbul, Riza Akpolat and Ekrem İmamoğlu [Melisa Ishbitiren]

Mehmet Ali Gümüs, a lawyer and the head of the NGO ‘We are Here Hatay’, explained that many Hatay residents understood Erdoğan’s statement as a threat that no support would be delivered if they elected a CHP mayor again. Mehmet believes this could have been one of the reasons why people gravitated towards the AK Party. 

“Citizens on the ruling side are happy that their mayor was elected, but at least, overall, in the country, the opposition has dominated,” Mehmet added. 

According to Mehmet, the CHP candidate and former mayor, Lütfü Savaş, was generally seen as an “earthquake culprit” due to “his lack of support during and after the tragic earthquake.”

Referring to Adiyaman, Mehmet believes, “Since CHP showed the right candidate there, they immediately turned to him. If the party had nominated an alternative candidate here in Hatay, they would have easily won.”

In the earthquake-struck, conservative province of Adıyaman, CHP took back power after 47 years. This came as a shock for Turkish politics, traditionally defined as being dominated by “identity politics”.

But with such a poor response following the devastating earthquake, this change was inevitable. 

“Promises were not kept, and the goods were not delivered,” Ozel explained. “Some of the talk from the government circles there was so insensitive that people finally rebelled.” 

Akif, a paramedic and an earthquake survivor told The New Arab that initially, the government support following the earthquake was adequate, but aid and reconstruction efforts stopped overnight after the general elections last year.

“When I went to the city centre, construction machines were everywhere,” the 25-year-old revealed. “Trucks were dumping piles of rubble. But the next day there was not a single construction machine left on the street.”

He therefore believes that Adiyaman’a AKP voter base reacted by either not going to the ballot box or voting for alternative parties like CHP.

“The people were voting based on the aid given to them. I see that CHP was able to realise this,” Akif adds. 

Many believe that the social programmes put forward helped CHP star candidates, like the now Mayor of Istanbul Ekrem İmamoğlu and the now Mayor of Ankara Mansur Yavaş, to connect with voters. 

But not all are happy with these victories. 

Metin Nazifoglu, a 69-year-old pensioner and supporter of the defeated AK Party candidate Murat Kurum, said that “nurseries, cheap restaurants, milk distribution” are not what the “vast” Istanbul needs. 

Metin Nazifoglu, a 69-year-old pensioner from Istanbul, supported the AK Party’s candidate
for Istanbul's Mayor position [Melisa Ishbitiren]

“I want Ekrem İmamoğlu to give up the bid for the presidency. He needs to take some real interest in Istanbul. Money needs to be spent on Istanbul's traffic and transportation. Urban transformation should be carried out in preparation for any anticipated earthquakes,” Metin told The New Arab.

Sultan Pinar, a 72-year-old retired architect and a CHP supporter, also believes that Istanbul’s biggest problems are related to its population density and construction projects. 

However, she believes that the AK Party has long used grand infrastructure projects in their election campaigns which she says Erdoğan considers some of his “biggest services to the country.”

“Murat Kurum says, I will fix the traffic. Nobody asks or says, ‘Okay, weren't you the Minister of Environment and Urbanisation? You approved the construction of 70 to 80-storey-high buildings on the coastline in Atakoy and filled them with people. How can you talk about traffic?’ 

“Each square metre of construction means one car in traffic. These roads are not expanding, the infrastructure is the same,” the architect argued. 

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The control of the city’s population density and infrastructure is one of the main reasons why Sultan supported İmamoğlu in the local elections. She is also pleased that the new mayor is looking to restore historical buildings. 

“I am comfortable now; I know that they are restoring the historical texture of Istanbul. Really beautiful buildings are being restored,” she added. 

Sultan Pinar, a 72-year-old retired architect, hails İmamoğlu's efforts in preserving
Istanbul's historical landscape [Melisa Ishbitiren]

İmamoğlu's candidacy has also resonated strongly with young Istanbul voters.

Both Yunus Efe, a 24-year-old student, and Ezgi Can Atalay, a 26-year-old social media marketing specialist cited İmamoğlu's track record of implementing tangible changes in Istanbul, such as social programmes and support for marginalised groups as key factors influencing their support.

“My expectation as a student is to have a happy, peaceful and enjoyable student life in Istanbul, and I believe that both Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and CHP will offer this to me,” Yunus said.

Student Yunus Efe's vote also went to Istanbul's new Mayor İmamoğlu [Melisa Ishbitiren]

Meanwhile, Ezgi emphasised İmamoğlu’s progressive and inclusive policies, notably the rising number of women elected in the local governments.

"The fact that more women are taking the step forward in politics and that our people are recognising and accepting them makes me feel proud. I feel like we've suddenly jumped forward 50 years. I believe that as long as there are women in the government, things will move faster, get sorted quicker, and be more orderly."

The success of female candidates in the local elections has emerged as one of the most important aspects of the new political landscape — 11 female candidates in total were elected as province mayors out of the 81 provinces, with just one candidate being from the ruling AK Party.

These women have not only broken barriers previously thought unsurpassable but have also made significant strides towards gender equality in Turkish politics. 

Researcher and the head of Turkiye Raporu, Can Selcuki believes that “The results show that Imamoglu is now a formidable contender in the 2028 elections.

“The voters gave a very clear message,” he concluded. 

Robert Badendieck is a freelance writer and producer based in Turkey, working with the Associated Press' Istanbul bureau

Follow him on Instagram: @rbadendieck

Melisa Ishbitiren is a freelance multimedia journalist and photographer who has previously worked with Meduza and Fayn Press, reporting from Turkey and Kazakhstan

Follow her on Instagram: @melisa.ishbitiren