Erdogan Faces High-Stakes Battle in Turkey’s Municipal Elections

ISTANBUL – Turkey braces for a pivotal moment in its political landscape as citizens across the nation cast their votes in municipal elections on Sunday, with President Tayyip Erdogan seeking to reclaim control of Istanbul from his major rival Ekrem Imamoglu.

Imamoglu’s stunning victory in the 2019 Istanbul mayoral race dealt a significant blow to Erdogan and his AK Party, marking a historic moment in Turkish politics. However, Erdogan bounced back in 2023, securing re-election and a parliamentary majority with support from nationalist allies.

The outcome of Sunday’s elections holds the potential to reinforce Erdogan’s grip on power or signal a shift in Turkey’s divided political landscape. An Imamoglu win could elevate him as a future national leader, reshaping the nation’s political trajectory. Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. in eastern Turkey, with voting set to continue until 5 p.m. Initial results are expected later in the evening.

In Istanbul, a city of 16 million pivotal to Turkey’s economy, Imamoglu faces a formidable challenge from AKP candidate Murat Kurum, a former minister. The race is expected to be closely contested, with economic concerns and the aspirations of Kurdish and Islamist voters influencing the outcome.

While Erdogan’s focus remains on reclaiming Istanbul, he also aims to secure victory in the capital Ankara. Both cities fell to the opposition in 2019 after decades under AKP rule, underscoring the stakes of Sunday’s elections. Despite the collapse of the opposition alliance that Imamoglu defeated last year, he continues to resonate with voters beyond his Republican People’s Party. However, the support of pro-Kurdish voters, crucial to his 2019 success, faces challenges amid competing party interests.

In the southeast, the pro-Kurdish DEM party seeks to reaffirm its strength after previous setbacks, while the rise of the Islamist New Welfare Party adds complexity to the electoral landscape. As Turkey awaits the election results, the outcome of Sunday’s vote will shape the nation’s political future, determining the balance of power and signaling potential shifts in the country’s domestic and international dynamics.