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Turkey’s Triumphant Opposition

With the Turkish opposition’s stunning electoral upset on Sunday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party are finally reaping the consequences of ill-considered macroeconomic policies. But the real winner of these critical local elections may be Turkish democracy.

ISTANBUL – To the surprise of many observers, Turkey’s opposition won big in Sunday’s local elections, a result that is certain to reshape the country’s domestic political dynamics. The center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) captured 37.8% of the national vote, dealing a blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which received 35.5%. More importantly, CHP mayors will now govern 35 of Turkey’s 81 provinces – including its ten largest metropolitan areas – with a total population of 53 million. By contrast, the AKP won only 24 provinces, representing 19.5 million people.

Turkey’s ongoing economic malaise was a key factor in the CHP’s stunning result. Erdoğan and the AKP are finally experiencing the political consequences of ill-considered macroeconomic policies that fueled inflation and pummeled the lira, eroding the purchasing power of the majority of Turks. This has been most visible in Turkey’s metropolitan areas, where workers are more exposed to the business cycle. Anger over the deep economic slump drove down turnout among AKP voters.

Equally important for the future of Turkish democracy is the emergence of Ekrem İmamoğlu, the CHP mayor of Istanbul, as the natural leader of Turkey’s political opposition. He was handily re-elected with 51% of the vote, beating Murat Kurum, the AKP candidate, by a margin of 12 percentage points. This is all the more impressive given that Kurum’s campaign benefited from Erdoğan’s personal involvement, skewed media coverage, and other government advantages.