Do Turkey’s 2024 Local Elections Signal the End of Erdoğan’s Reign?

  • M. Hakan Yavuz

    Dr. Yavuz is a professor at the University of Utah.

  • Rasim Koç

    Dr. Koç is a historian of modern Turkey.

The unexpected victory of the opposition Republican People’s Party in Turkey’s March 31 municipal elections raises intriguing questions about the future of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after more than two decades of his rule. Just 10 months after Erdoğan won a new term, a significant portion of the electorate voted against him and his Justice and Development Party, marking his largest defeat ever. The president acknowledged the significance of the defeat, describing the results as “not only a loss of votes but also a loss of soul and blood.” This article analyzes the factors that drove the outcome and contends that this was more a protest of the Turkish strongman than an approval of opposition policies. The people voted against Erdoğan’s arrogance and authoritarian style, as well as the poor quality of his party’s candidates; the worsening economy, especially for retirees; and perceptions of a deteriorating justice system. The main opposition party also benefited from skillful leadership less than a year after its defeat in the presidential election. While the outcome of the 2024 vote signals a desire for democratic governance and accountability, it remains uncertain at this early stage whether this is a temporary deviation.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has just suffered what analysts are calling his most significant political defeat in more than two decades. His long-ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was dealt a resounding loss in local elections held in March 2024. The opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) achieved sweeping victories across the country, notably in Turkey’s five largest cities, including Istanbul, where Erdoğan had personally campaigned for his chosen candidate—and where the strongman began his political ascent three decades ago.

The unexpected wins for the CHP cast doubt on the future of Erdoğan’s authoritarian reign. Just 10 months prior, the majority of the electorate had voted for the president in the second round of balloting. However, on March 31, a significant portion of these same voters turned against Erdoğan’s party, resulting in his biggest-ever defeat. Could this be the beginning of the end for Erdoğan?1 The strongman himself described the results as

losing more than just votes; it’s like losing the heart and soul of our party….[It’s] not only a loss of votes, but also a loss of blood and spirit….Either we regroup by recognizing our mistakes, or we continue to melt like ice exposed to the sun.2

The AKP not only lost ground, it also lost its mojo. The outcome raises important questions about the future of Turkish democracy, the role of opposition parties, and the resilience of the authoritarian regime.3 What transpired during this brief period to prompt such a dramatic shift in the Turkish political landscape?

The national elections in May 2023 and the local contests less than a year later must be analyzed together. While Erdoğan narrowly secured victory in his presidential race, the erosion of his electoral support became evident during this period. He was lucky in 2023 that voters reluctantly backed him due to the disarray within the Table of Six, the diverse alliance of opposition parties led by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who came in second in the presidential tally. With the ongoing erosion of public confidence and the failure in the 2024 municipal elections, the remaining four years of Erdoğan’s term are expected to be fraught, with the regime likely rendered ineffective. Without major economic improvement, early presidential elections appear increasingly likely.

Four factors help to explain this reversal of Erdoğan’s fortunes: the worsening of the economy, especially for retirees, whose purchasing power has dramatically decreased; the declining sense of justice due to reports detailing the top-down corruption of the judiciary; the arrogance and authoritarian style of Erdoğan and the poor quality of his nominees; and the new image of the CHP as the center of the opposition. Understanding the factors that led to this unprecedented electoral loss is crucial to anticipating the future of Turkish politics. Was this just a reaction to Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies and to the economic challenges, or should we see it as a broader desire for change among the electorate? What are we likely to see going forward?

This article first delves into the results and compares them to the previous outcomes, especially the 2019 local elections but also the 2023 presidential campaign. We then examine the reasons for the AKP’s major decline in vote share despite Erdoğan’s recent re-election. The third part looks at how the opposition parties were able to recover, with Kılıçdaroğlu making strategic decisions and the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara raising their profiles for potential challenges at the national level. And we consider how these results may affect Turkish politics and Erdoğan’s future.


The CHP—the founding party of the Republic of Turkey and the driving force behind Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s modernizing reforms—has historically maintained around 25 percent of the vote since the country transitioned to a multiparty system in 1945.4 However, in the 2024 municipal elections, it surged to become the main opposition party, with disenchanted Turks and Kurds rallying under its banner in protest against the long-standing authoritarian regime. The CHP won 37.7 percent of the vote nationwide, its highest share since 1977, securing victories in Istanbul and the capital city of Ankara, as well as Izmir, Bursa, and Adana. Erdoğan’s AKP won 35.5 percent, its worst showing in local elections since the party was founded more than 20 years ago (see Table 1). The party even lost ground in conservative strongholds such as Adıyaman, Afyonkarahisar, and Zonguldak.

TABLE 1. Comparison of Turkish municipal elections, 2019 and 2024
2024 2019 Difference
Party Votes % Votes % Votes %
CHP 17,391,548 37.76 13,983,930 30.12 3,407,618 7.64
AKP 16,339,771 35.48 20,584,029 44.33 -4,244,258 -8.85
YRP 2,851,784 6.19 2,851,784 6.19
DEM 2,625,588 5.70 1,970,466 4.24 655,122 1.46
MHP 2,297,662 4.98 3,394,477 7.31 -1,096,815 -2.33
IYI 1,735,924 3.77 3,459,599 7.45 -1,723,675 -3.68
Other 2,804,222 6.12 3,039,216 6.55 -234,994 -0.43
Total 46,046,499 46,431,717 -385,218 -0.83

SourcesDaily Sabah, “Local Election 2019,” n.d.,; International Foundation for Electoral Systems, “Results, Election for Turkish Presidency,” May 14, 2023,; Anadolu Ajansı, “Election 2024,” n.d.,

While the most striking general result of the elections is the CHP’s surpassing the AKP to become the top vote winner, the second telling indicator is the decrease in the ruling party’s votes by more than 4.2 million. Following the AKP, the biggest absolute losses in votes are observed for the Good Party (IYI), with a reduction of 1.7 million, and the party from which the IYI split, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), with 1.1 million. Among the parties that increased their votes, the CHP stands out with 3.4 million, the Islamist New Welfare Party (YRP) with 2.9 million, and the Kurdish nationalist Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM) with 639,000. We discuss the fortunes of all three in more detail below.

However, as we explain, this was not just a story of the growing support for the opposition CHP against the ruling AKP. Instead, the results tell us that the local elections reflected a broad rejection of the existing order and a desire for change. This frustration is evident in the high rates of nonparticipation and the increase in invalid or blank votes. Choosing not to vote or casting a blank ballot is a form of protest, a way of expressing dissatisfaction with the current system, and a lack of support for the status quo. Table 2 compares the last three major election cycles. Between 2019 and 2024, even though the number of eligible voters increased by about 4.3 million, the total votes cast in the most recent election actually dropped by nearly 100,000. The number of people who did not participate in the local elections plus those who cast invalid votes exceeded 15 million, a record increase.5 In the 2019 contests, by contrast, nonparticipant and invalid votes were about 10.7 million.6

TABLE 2. Eligibility, turnout, and protest balloting, 2019–2024
2024 2023 2019
Type Total % Total % Total %
Eligible voters 61,430,934 64,145,504 57,093,410
Turnout 48,256,541 78.55 55,833,153 87.04 48,340,184 84.67
Invalid/blank ballots 2,210,042 4.58 1,037,104 1.86 1,908,467 3.95
Total nonvoting 15,384,435 25.04 9,349,455 14.58 10,661,693 18.67

SourcesDaily Sabah, “Local Election 2019”; International Foundation for Electoral Systems, “Results, Election for Turkish Presidency”; Anadolu Ajansı, “Election 2024.”

Despite Erdoğan’s use of state power, including his sending 17 government ministers to campaign in local elections and threatening to deny funding to any municipalities not run by the AKP, the president acknowledged the message conveyed by Turkish voters. But Erdoğan also sounded a note of optimism as he conceded defeat: “March 31 is not an end for us, but a turning point.”7


During the 10 months between Erdoğan’s re-election and his humbling in the local elections, the public grew disenchanted over his economic mismanagement, the corruption of the judiciary, the lavish lifestyles of the president and his associates, and his emphasis on mega-construction projects instead of manufacturing and social services. For this reason, we see this outcome as driven more by protest than by the popularity of the CHP.

Economic Factors

In the 2023 presidential election, Erdoğan’s use of state resources and unchecked spending to secure votes played a significant role in his victory.8 This involved manipulating economic conditions, distributing resources to loyal supporters, expanding the bureaucracy, and offering early retirement options. One of the key tactics was the use of monetary policy to create a favorable economic environment. By suppressing interest rates, Erdoğan’s government aimed to stimulate growth and create a sense of prosperity among the population. This was especially appealing to small-business owners and individuals with loans, who benefited from reduced interest payments. While the 2023 contest required two rounds of balloting, the president’s efforts paid off when he won another five-year term.

However, this politically motivated policy fueled inflation. In the two months after the May 2023 election, inflation raced past 50 percent, and by the end of the year, it was well beyond 60 percent. So despite having forced interest rates to remain artificially low at 8.5 percent in the runup to his re-election bid, Erdoğan changed tactics immediately after his victory. He soon appointed a team with the authority to increase rates in an attempt to stabilize the economy. In response, the central bank began the process of raising rates, doing so nine times before the local elections. By March 2024, the rate had increased to 50 percent. Despite these efforts, inflation remained stubbornly high, nearing 70 percent in March, although some economists argue that the actual rate is higher.

The spike in inflation was accompanied by the lira’s slide. The Turkish currency declined sharply after the presidential election, falling from 19.70 lira to the US dollar in May 2023 to 32.00 to the dollar 10 months later. Indeed, the Turkish currency ranked as the worst performer among emerging-market currencies the previous year.9 The central bank was forced to sell its foreign-reserve deposits, though it announced plans to build them up over the course of 2024. Ultimately, the populace lost confidence in Erdoğan’s ability to address the crisis, a sentiment that heavily influenced voter behavior.

Erdoğan had previously been able to count on support from older citizens. Ahead of his re-election bid, he implemented policies that allowed people to retire at a younger age, which was seen as a way to buy the loyalty of seniors.10 However, despite this appeal to older individuals eager to leave the workforce and enjoy retirement benefits, the deteriorating economy has been a significant concern for retirees. The severe depreciation of the lira has directly impacted their purchasing power and quality of life.

The economic conditions have led people to lose faith in Erdoğan, realizing that his promises of prosperity have been short-lived. More than 22 years into the strongman’s reign, the rich have become richer, and the poor poorer. The middle class has largely disappeared. According to data from the Turkish Statistical Institute, the top 20 percent of earners in Turkey received 50 percent of the total national income. The bottom 20 percent received only 6 percent of the total income. The situation is even more dire in wealth distribution: The top 5 percent of the population owns 60 percent of the country’s total wealth.11

The Collapsed Justice System

Another factor that neutralized Erdoğan’s use of identity politics to divide the electorate is the reaction against the breakdown of the justice system. Over the course of the AKP’s rule, the Turkish judiciary has been politicized and corrupted. Erdoğan has manipulated judges and used the court to criminalize the opposition and silence critical voices. Indeed, Turkish intelligence reports that the judiciary is corrupt from top to bottom.12 Journalists who cover the corruption in the judiciary have been regularly arrested and imprisoned,13 notably Baris Terkoglu, a prominent opposition journalist who has uncovered documents of the corruption in the judicial system.14

Moreover, Istanbul’s chief public prosecutor, İsmail Uçar, complained to the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) about the widespread corruption in the country’s judicial system. The letter was widely covered in the opposition social media.15 These corruption allegations, coupled with a lack of transparency, have fueled public distrust in the government and its ability to effectively address the country’s challenges.16 This has, in turn, forced foreign investors to stay away from Turkey. For instance, The New York Times reported that “after nearly two decades of Mr. Erdoğan’s rule, the state of the judiciary in Turkey is in such crisis that the lives of millions of citizens are tied up in tortuous legal procedures, and public trust in justice has fallen as low as it has ever been in Turkey’s long, uneven record.”17 This was five years ago, and the public may have run out of patience.

Erdoğan’s Dwindling Political Magic

The AKP is confronted with the stark reality of an eroding base. The party’s human resources, once a source of strength, are now strained. The current leaders, long accustomed to wielding power, have lost their innovative edge, stifled by the constraints of their positions and their close association with the state apparatus. Many AKP supporters have grown frustrated by the prevalence of nepotism and lack of meritocracy in government, the lack of viable alternatives, and the inability of voting to bring about meaningful change. The party’s dearth of fresh ideas and critical thinking is evident in its response to challenges, as seen in the lackluster performances of its candidates, spokespersons, and defenders. During the 2024 local elections, Erdoğan and his inner circle floated the idea of a “new constitution,” deepening anxiety about the potential for institutionalized authoritarianism.

Over the course of the AKP’s tenure, Turkey has had free, but not fair, elections. Since 2014, Erdoğan has won every contest by taking advantage of state-owned broadcasting, which he has used as a party organ, refusing to give any space to opposition parties. He has also used state funds to great effect, distributing resources and government benefits in a way that has favored his supporters. This has included directing government contracts to businesses with ties to the ruling party and providing financial assistance to individuals and communities that were likely to support the president. These actions have helped to create a sense of dependency on the government among electorally valuable segments of the population, making them more likely to vote for Erdoğan and the AKP.

Erdoğan also expanded the bureaucracy, creating more government positions and increasing the number of civil servants. This allowed him to reward supporters with jobs and positions of influence within the regime, enabling him to cultivate a network of loyalists inside the government. However, the economic crisis brought this to an end by reducing the available resources and subsidies with which to either buy the support of insiders or alleviate the financial burdens of voters.

In addition, the party had no answer for another major concern among the public: the rising use of drugs among young people. While Turkey was previously a transit country for international narcotics trafficking, the government’s policies have transformed it into both a hub and a primary consumer market.18 According to a 2023 United Nations report, “Since 2014, the amount of the drug seized in the country has increased sevenfold from 393 kg to a record 2.8 tons in 2021. Some of the cocaine reaching Türkiye arrives after transiting through West Africa, and some comes directly from Latin America.”19

Due to public concern, Erdoğan named a new interior minister, who carried out a series of operations that garnered significant coverage in the national media.20 The crackdown on gangs, mafias, drug networks, and illicit financial activities confirmed suspicions that drug cartels with connections with the AKP bureaucracy had penetrated the Turkish banking system.21 Due to this cooptation and the flood of illegal money, Turkey has been placed on the key international watchdog’s grey list, meaning the country has agreed to enhanced monitoring. Mehmet Şimşek, the treasury and finance minister, has been trying hard to remove Turkey from that list.22

Another tool that AKP members expected to use in order to win the municipal elections was spending on major projects like roads, bridges, airports, and defense-industry production. However, this emphasis on construction instead of on manufacturing or on smaller local initiatives designed to improve quality of life backfired. Erdoğan’s focus on construction led to a decline in the manufacturing sector’s contribution to the economy, from more than 22 percent to about 16 percent since the late 1990s. By contrast, construction and real estate have experienced rapid growth and now account for a similar share of national output as manufacturing. The construction boom has been fueled by a significant amount of borrowing, with major contractors holding about $56 billion in foreign-currency loans, largely tied to megaprojects that benefit from government financial guarantees.

One ambitious project was the plan to create a second Bosporus, the Canal Istanbul, with a price tag of $25 billion, which has been met with fierce opposition from Ekrem Imamoğlu, the Istanbul mayor who just won re-election as part of the opposition CHP. Imamoğlu has denounced the project as a “betrayal of Istanbul” and a “murder project,” vowing that “16 million people will resist.” In a bold move, he terminated a protocol of cooperation that the previous municipality had negotiated with the government, signaling his commitment to halt the controversial plan. Such megaprojects were not intended to serve the lower classes but were aimed to enrich Erdoğan and his cronies. Only the rich with cars and those who could pay the dues would benefit. Ordinary people cannot afford to use a new, big bridge when fuel is expensive; they cannot benefit from a fast train if they cannot afford the fare. As electoral ploys, they are not paying off.

As Erdoğan focused on these enormous construction projects, he ignored the benefits of social services that touch people’s daily lives. Several such projects implemented in municipalities with CHP leadership had major impacts on the lower classes. In Istanbul, Imamoğlu expanded city restaurants with affordable prices to provide more quality food and social spaces. He also provided free transit to women with children across the city’s vast transport networks. In Ankara, Mayor Mansur Yavaş, another CHP politician, established microprojects to cover the elderly and students who were in need. He opened more than 100 daycare centers and supported small businesses under stress.

The outcome of the recent election reflects a societal shift toward rejecting Erdoğan’s environmentally damaging megaprojects and embracing a vision of a more united and inclusive Turkey. The strongman, once seen as an invincible leader who can adapt to changing political landscapes, now finds himself challenged by these two popular mayors. The presidential system he championed, which centralized power in the executive branch, has paradoxically weakened his authority by tethering him to a network of political allies and restricting his ability to make decisions flexibly and unilaterally. This has forced Erdoğan to navigate a complex web of competing interests, from nationalist factions like the far-right MHP to more religiously oriented groups such as the Kurdish Islamist Huda-Par, to maintain his grip on power.

The crisis of the AKP’s making is not merely one of leadership or strategy but of identity and purpose. The party once represented a beacon of hope for conservative, pro-Islamic Turks seeking a break from the secularist past. However, it now struggles to articulate a coherent vision for the future. Erdoğan’s charisma, once a powerful asset, is being tested like never before as he seeks to rally support in the face of mounting challenges. Whether he can navigate these turbulent waters and steer the AKP toward a new era of relevance remains to be seen.


Özgür Özel, the current leader of the CHP, acknowledged that the results should be seen not simply as a win for his party but for the broad array of anti-Erdoğan opposition groups. “I am aware that every vote we received is not for the CHP, but for the Turkey Alliance,” he said. “We received votes from nationalist democrats, conservative democrats, and Kurdish democrats….The alliance that politicians did not form was formed by the voters at the ballot box.”23

The ‘New’ CHP and the Legacy of Kılıçdaroğlu

While this election was a clear rebuke of Erdoğan’s policies, it also served as a pivotal moment for the Republican People’s Party, signaling a resurgence and offering hope for the future of democracy and the restoration of the rule of law. The 2024 electoral outcome is reminiscent of the CHP’s success in the 1977 national elections under the leadership of the charismatic Bülent Ecevit, following Turkey’s military victory over Cyprus. However, unlike that period nearly 50 years ago, it was primarily a protest against Erdoğan’s reign and corruption, not necessarily an endorsement of opposition policies. Two factors explain why the CHP became the center of the opposition: the legacy of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and the increasing strength of the party’s new brand names, Imamoğlu and Yavaş.

Part of the municipal success was driven by the CHP’s former leader, Kılıçdaroğlu, despite the fact that he failed to rally a majority of citizens after forcing a runoff in the 2023 presidential contest. Kılıçdaroğlu’s strategic decisions, such as fostering dialogue with previously marginalized voices and emphasizing justice and inclusivity, were crucial to the party’s successes in the local elections.24 He united nationalist, conservative, and liberal groups under the Table of Six, incorporating the IYI, Saadet, Gelecek, and Deva parties.25 Kılıçdaroğlu’s vision emphasized justice, peace, and equality for all, presenting a counterpoint to Erdoğan’s polarizing politics of division. This elite-level coalition took some time to trickle down to ordinary people, and it initially failed when it directly challenged the president at the ballot box in 2023. But 10 months later, it fully coalesced and made a much stronger showing.

Some analysts argue that the loss in the previous presidential election was due to the absence of a “winning candidate” against Erdoğan. Some even insist that Kılıçdaroğlu was not an appealing leader because of his religious identity as an Alevi. However, the more compelling explanation is that, in the 2023 contest, the Table of Six failed to project an image of unity and did not convince the public that it was capable of running the country. Voters expressed dissatisfaction with some key leaders of the alliance, including the nationalist Meral Aksener, the conservative former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and Ali Babacan, the moderate former foreign minister.26 The public did not believe that the five chairmen next to Kilicdaroglu would govern Turkey well, and they did not trust them to handle challenges in security and foreign policy.27 However, Kılıçdaroğlu’s efforts since his narrow 2023 defeat contributed to a political climate in which the CHP became more appealing and acceptable to conservative voters.

Two Presidential Contenders: Imamoğlu vs. Yavaş

In addition to the political culture Kılıçdaroğlu helped to create within the CHP and across the opposition alliance, a new generation of politicians, exemplified by Imamoğlu and Yavaş, is playing a central role in the effort to check Erdoğan’s power and halt the erosion of democracy. The mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, who each secured re-election with significantly increased voter support, stand out as rising stars who can leverage the budgets of their major cities to bolster their profiles ahead of the next presidential election, expected in 2028.

Imamoğlu won a second term as mayor of Istanbul, taking more than 51 percent of the vote in defeating Erdoğan’s candidate, Murat Kurum, who garnered 40 percent.28 Istanbul, Europe’s largest city, makes up 18 percent of Turkey’s population and a third of its economy. During his victory speech, Imamoğlu emphasized the profound impact of the local election results on the nation’s political trajectory. “Turkey will blossom into a new era in democracy as of tomorrow,” he declared. “March 31, 2024, is the day when democratic erosion ends and democracy begins to recover.” Imamoğlu’s re-election in Istanbul, where Erdoğan launched his own bid for power, positions him as a major national political figure. Declaring that “people oppressed under authoritarian regimes now turn their gaze to Istanbul,” Imamoğlu is clearly running to succeed the president.

Imamoğlu is seen as a Machiavellian and utilitarian politician, driven by a thirst for power, often disregarding rules and norms. Like a chameleon, he has adopted many ideological colors according to the needs of the moment, without a fixed stance of his own. This political opportunism has raised concerns among many members of the secular and nationalist CHP leadership. His political style, characterized by a belief that the end justifies the means, is a major worry for ordinary party supporters who desire the restoration of the rule of law.

In interviews conducted for this article, respondents drew comparisons between Imamoğlu and the Turkish president, expressing that they have no desire for a “second Erdoğan.” “Regarding his business dealings,” one said, “it’s important to note that Imamoğlu is perceived as being as corrupt as Erdoğan was/is during his time as mayor of Istanbul or later as president.” These observers emphasized that they do not want a leader who disregards the rule of law and prioritizes personal gain over the welfare of the country. Some factions within the CHP are seeking a new leader to counterbalance Imamoğlu’s perceived ambitions and to curb his authoritarian tendencies. There is a palpable fear among these factions that Imamoğlu could consolidate power and quell dissent within the party.

Kılıçdaroğlu, who remains the most charismatic Alevi politician, is inclined along with other nationalists to support Yavaş as a candidate to challenge Imamoğlu. A former lawyer, Yavaş is seen as a technocrat with a statesmanlike demeanor in contrast to Imamoğlu, who is viewed as more of a populist.29 Yavaş is an ethical, effective leader who is calm and prudent, and he enjoys a reputation for being honest, clean, and dedicated to the public good. An institutionalist who leans toward conservatism and nationalism, he is believed by supporters to be committed to upholding the rule of law and prioritizing service to the entire country over loyalty to the party or enriching himself or his family.

In his bid for re-election as Ankara’s mayor, Yavaş earned more votes from AKP supporters than did Imamoğlu. However, although he won 60 percent of ballots, nearly doubling the tally for AKP candidate Turgut Altınok, Imamoğlu is likely to attract more Kurdish votes than Yavaş.

Fatih Erbakan and the Welfare Party’s Resurgence

Aside from the CHP’s ascent and the strong positions of the two mayors, another major winner in the local elections was the Islamist New Welfare Party (YRP). The YRP has emerged as Turkey’s third-largest party just one year after winning less than 3 percent of parliamentary voting and not fielding a candidate in the presidential election, when the YRP allied with the AKP and supported Erdoğan. This resurgence underscores the YRP’s appeal to dissatisfied AKP supporters and Islamists. Founded in 2018, the YRP made significant strides in its inaugural local elections. It secured victories in one metropolitan city, one province, 39 districts, and 19 towns. Its success is notable, particularly in provinces like Urfa and Yozgat, where it managed to double its votes between May 2023 and March 2024, reaching more than 6 percent.

By separating from Erdoğan and running independently in the municipal elections, Fatih Erbakan, the leader of the YRP, presented a viable alternative to disgruntled AKP elites and voters. This was true especially for those perturbed by the ostentatious display of wealth within the ruling bloc and the government’s refusal to sever economic ties with Israel during the Gaza war. The YRP championed the Palestinian cause, and a number of conservative Islamists broke away from Erdoğan due to this foreign-policy stance.

Kurds: The Search for an Ally

The municipal elections also showed that discourse based on national or other identities became less appealing in the face of a deteriorating economy. Nationalist politics, which accounted for 25 percent of the vote in the previous election, only attracted about 10 percent in the local contests. The domestic crisis also led to the weakening of the political influence of religious communities. The results in Adıyaman and Istanbul’s Fatih district are exemplary. In these most conservative places, CHP candidates won.

Since the 2014 local elections, Erdoğan has intensified the perception among ordinary Turks that Kurdish political activism poses an existential threat to the state. Regular attacks on state officials and civilians by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the primary Kurdish terrorist organization, have reinforced these fears. After the 2019 municipal contests, Erdoğan removed all pro-Kurdish mayors and appointed a trustee to govern them. This was a critical reason the majority of the Kurds voted for opposition parties and candidates to end the president’s reign.30 In 2024 voting in major cities, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM) supported CHP candidates. In provinces populated by Kurds, voters overwhelmingly supported the DEM candidates. That said, the elections relegated the DEM to the status of a regional, not a national, party. The strategy of integrating into Turkish politics, initiated by former presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş in 2015, has proved unsuccessful. DEM candidates reverted to traditional levels of support, between 6 and 7 percent.

One major success for the DEM was Abdullah Zeydan’s election as mayor of Van province. He earned 55.48 percent of the vote, with the AKP candidate, Abdulahat Arvas, a distant second at 27.2 percent. However, Van’s election board cited a legal technicality and declared Arvas the winner. This evoked bad memories of Erdoğan’s 2019 move to replace mayors affiliated with the Peoples’ Democratic Party—the precursor of the DEM. Instead of simply appointing his own trustees to govern Kurdish-populated cities, Erdoğan tried to use the courts to deny Kurds their rights to elect their municipal leaders.

The decision to name Arvas as mayor sparked outrage among Kurds and Zeydan supporters. Opposition parties united in support of the DEM candidate, signaling a shift away from Erdoğan’s fear-driven politics. Thousands took to the streets in protest, despite the prospect of harsh police crackdowns with tear gas and water cannons. Soon after, the Supreme Election Council overturned the electoral panel’s decision and officially declared Zeydan Van’s mayor, restoring faith in the democratic process. The strong response in Van underscored the Kurdish determination to resist any attempts by Erdoğan’s government to oust elected mayors from their ethnic group.


Under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s two-decade reign, institutions have been neutralized, checks and balances have been eliminated, the separation of powers exists only in words, judicial independence is nothing but a dream, the concept of the rule of law is a thing of the past, and even the parliament has been transformed into a structure with a name but no real influence. He has effectively transformed Turkey into a party state, consolidating control over the judiciary, executive, and legislature. This centralization of power has led to the Islamization of Turkey’s security establishment, including the military, police, and intelligence services. The extent of institutional collapse is profound, and it will likely take decades for Turkey to reclaim its pre-Erdoğan order. Of grave concern is the ongoing Islamization of other institutions, with religious factions vying to expand their influence. The vision of a secular and pro-Western Turkey, pioneered by Mustafa Kemal, lies in ruins, leaving uncertainty about the nation’s future. However, this election provides a glimmer of hope that the CHP, the founding party of modern Turkey, may lead the process of restoring the republic.

Despite Erdoğan’s declaration that there would be no presidential contest until 2028, the opposition’s gains and pressure amid worsening economic conditions could force an early election. While the strongman still has time to address voters’ concerns, it seems unlikely that he will be able to captivate their imaginations. Throughout his two decades ruling Turkey, he has surrounded himself with advisers who lack critical-thinking skills. Although he may seek to manipulate the opposition by advancing a debate over a new constitution to re-establish a parliamentary system, his chances of success appear slim.

Despite the gains by the CHP and the enhanced stature of two major challengers to the kleptocratic regime, Ekrem Imamoğlu and Mansur Yavaş, Erdoğan himself has not mentored a successor. We have seen this with the sidelining of a host of ambitious party officials, such as Abdullah Gül, Ahmet Davutoglu, Ali Babacan, and Bülent Arınç. Erdoğan’s effective transformation of the ruling AKP into a vehicle to enrich his family leaves no space for the emergence of a protégé, and his tight grip on power has essentially made him the sole proprietor. As Erdoğan ages, surrounded by more foes than friends, his primary concern seems to be securing his own well-being. This has led to speculation that he is setting up either his son, Bilal Erdoğan, or son-in-law, Selçuk Bayraktar, to inherit both the ownership of the AKP and the mantle of Turkish leader.

The municipal election results offer Turkey a path forward. They demonstrate that the vision of uniting secularists, nationalists, conservatives, Turks, Kurds, Sunnis, and Alevis around a shared vision for the country is not merely an idealistic dream. The initiative taken by voters toward bridging these divides suggests that it may soon be possible to transform this vision into reality. This pivotal moment underscores the need for parties, particularly the CHP, to embrace inclusivity and take bold initiatives to become a home for all citizens. As they look ahead, officials, party leaders, and elites must strive for greater unity among the country’s diverse population.


  • M. Hakan Yavuz

    Dr. Yavuz is a professor at the University of Utah.

  • Rasim Koç

    Dr. Koç is a historian of modern Turkey.

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