Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has suffered a major setback, as the AKP lost control of the Turkish capital Ankara and a tense standoff unfolded in Istanbul. During his speech on Sunday, the Turkish president flanked only by his wife, addressed party supporters from the balcony of AKP’s general headquarters in Ankara, Erdogan appeared to accept defeat in Istanbul.
Local elections were held on Sunday 31 March in 81 provinces in Turkey, nine months after the elections national elections which saw Erdoğan’s hold on power extended.
CHP’s Mansur Yavaş won in Ankara dealing a significant blow to the AKP, which saw a 25-year dominance over the capital come to an end.
Meanwhile in Istanbul, CHP’s candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu said in the early hours of Monday that he had won by nearly 28,000 votes over AKP candidate and former prime minister Binali Yildirim. However, AKP said that Yildirim defeated İmamoğlu by just 4,000 votes, and banners portraying Erdoğan and his mayoral candidate Yildirim celebrating an electoral win on billboards appeared overnight in Istanbul.
The head of Turkey’s High Election Board said that İmamoğlu was leading the race later on, on Monday.
Yüksek Seçim Kurulu Başkanı da seçimi kazandığımızı teyid etti. Hep birlikte kazandık, emeği geçen herkese ve gönlü bizimle atan 16 milyon İstanbulluya teşekkürler. #BirlikteKazandık
The ruling party AKP and far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) contested various provinces under a joint People’s Alliance. CHP and IYI Party contested in some provinces under a joint banner in 50 provinces. The pro-Kurdish and pro-peace party, Peoples’ Democratic Party, HDP which is the second largest opposition group in parliament led a ‘Kurdish election alliance’ with candidates for municipalities in Turkey’s southeast. The party sat out critical races in Turkey’s major cities, which sent HDP votes to the Republican People’s Party.
Hundreds of detentions, arrests and deportation – HDP
The Peoples’ Democratic Party in a statement spoke of the government’s attempts to undermine the opposition through detentions and arrests in specific cities to directly affect election results.
In Iğidir members of the party and sister party BDP were detained on 17 March, with 9 of them arrested after a twelve-day detention period and charged with “terrorist” charges. On 29 March, 8 members of HDP, including the co-chair of the city, were arrested in Adana. In Van, 24 members and activists of HDP were detained and 14 of them arrested. On March 30, just a day before the country went to polls, 53 people were detained in Istanbul after the police raided 127 houses. The majority of the people were HDP candidates for municipal councils in Istanbul and its districts.
The Party also invited about 100 people from various European countries as elections observes with at least 12 foreign observers from those invited were detained at Istanbul Ataturk Airport and later deported.
The HDP decried the detentions and arrests and the government’s use of public resources for political campaigning. The party also condemned the media censorship, and the dangerous political discourse that polarized the country and criminalised all critical voices as “terrorists”.