Turkish elections in US and West European media

Turkish elections in US and West European media

The US and Western European press reported that the election results were a major blow to Erdoğan. It was stated that the Turkish people punished Erdoğan for the economy and that the elections had a dimension that affected not only the local governments but also the national administration. Imamoğlu’s victory in Istanbul paved the way for him to rival Erdoğan in the 2028 elections.

One of the most frequent headlines in the US and Western European press was Erdoğan suffered a major blow. Noting that it was the first time in more than two decades that the AK Party had fallen behind its rival in the elections, the press wrote that this election result was a historic defeat for Erdoğan. 

“A historic victory”

Le Monde chose the headline “Türkiye’s opposition makes huge gains in local elections, in a blow for Erdoğan”. 

The Financial Times used the similar title “Türkiye’s opposition wins big cities in blow to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan“. 

France 24 wrote that the local elections “dealt the biggest blow in more than two decades to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling AKP party.” 

The Economist also ran the headline “an electoral bruising for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Türkiye“. 

Another point of reference in the US and Western European press was Cumhuriyet’s “Historic Victory” headline, and Foreign Policy chose the headline “Türkiye’s Opposition Wins ‘Historic Victory’ in Local Elections”. “Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party suffers the worst electoral defeat in more than two decades of power,” it wrote. 

The BBC also covered the election results with the headline “Opposition stuns Erdoğan with historic victory”. 

Imamoğlu on the path to 2028

Another emphasized point was the re-election victory of Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu. Referring to Erdoğan’s statements on the importance of Istanbul, news reports and commentaries stated that Erdoğan’s great efforts to regain the city failed.

IRIS’s Selin Gücüm commented before the election that “because the real competition is between Erdoğan and Imamoğlu, if İmamoğlu wins Istanbul again, the opposition will have a strong candidate for the 2028 elections. On the other hand, if İmamoğlu is defeated, Erdoğan’s camp will have no rival for the 2028 elections. Both camps are aware of this.” 

CNBC also wrote that “nationwide local elections reasserted the opposition as a political force and reinforced Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu as the president’s chief future rival” and recalled that Imamoğlu was backed by “the main pro-Kurdish party” in 2019.

France 24 asked “President Imamoglu?” and then wrote that Imamoglu had “cemented a leader’s role within Türkiye’s notoriously fractious opposition.” Imamoglu was described as having “the stature, the popularity, sense of media and above all, ambition”.

Erdoğan’s nemesis emerges as top rival after Istanbul win,” Bloomberg wrote in its headline. 

Ishaan Tharoor, who frequently writes about Türkiye, wrote in an article for the Washington Post on what lessons Erdoğan’s electoral defeat offers for authoritarian regimes around the world. The author depicts Imamoğlu as having “emerged as the central figure of a new generation of politicians in the Turkish scene after staving off a full-throttle AKP campaign to unseat him from office.” Further, Tharoor writes, “he explicitly framed his reelection in global terms, casting his success as a sign of how opposition parties and voters can push back against electoral autocracies of the sort erected by Erdoğan in the latter years of his rule.”

“He is the only politician who succeeded in beating Erdoğan three times”, Selin Nasi, a visiting fellow at the European Institute of the London School of Economics, was quoted as saying in Politico. 

Erdoğan punished for the economy

The US and Western European media largely cite the economy as the main reason for Erdoğan’s electoral defeat. They say that voters punished Erdoğan for prolonged high inflation and poorly managed economic conditions.

Under the sub-heading “Inflation Bites”, Reuters quoted Onur Hizmetçi, a 42-year-old accountant who said he had voted for the AKP for the past 15 years: “We didn’t vote for (AKP) obviously due to the economic conditions and promises that were not kept.” 

France 24 quoted Galatasaray University political scientist Ali Faik Demir as saying that “when Turkish people vote, the situation in the kitchen or on their plate changes the voting trend.” 

“This result is all about inflation,” Timothy Ash, senior emerging markets strategist at BlueBay Asset Management, said on CNBC, calling the results a “disastrous” for the AKP. 

More than a local election

Another point made about the local elections was that this was not just a local election for Türkiye. The government suffered its first electoral defeat in more than two decades, and the election results signaled that the AK Party would face tough opponents in the coming period.

France 24 described the election as “more than just a local poll”, adding that “By throwing all his energy into campaigning for his party’s candidates for mayors, Erdoğan gave the election a national resonance and made it a de facto referendum on him and his party.” 

The loss of Ankara and Istanbul to the CHP in 2019 “shattered Erdoğan’s aura of invincibility,” AP News said, adding that the election was seen as “a barometer of Erdoğan’s popularity as he sought to win back control of key urban areas he lost to the opposition in elections five years ago.” 

CNBC had Erdoğan’s quote, “whoever wins Istanbul wins Türkiye”. 

Carnegie: Erdoğan’s foreign policy route would not change

Marc Pierini penned a piece on the repercussions of elections results on the Turkish foreign policy for Carnegie Europe. He wrote, “What remains uncertain is whether Türkiye’s policies will shift on two issues of critical importance. The first is the presence of Russian-made S-400 missile systems in Türkiye’s inventory—a disturbing choice for a NATO country. The second is the dismal state of rule of law in Türkiye, including the treatment of dissenters and free thinkers as terrorists on the basis of spurious arguments. For Western governments and, importantly, for Western business circles, the country remains in a different league. Changes in these domains would vastly improve Türkiye’s image on the world stage.”

On what Erdoğan would do after the electoral loss, Pierini reckoned the following: “For the next few years, the European Union and NATO will probably face the same Erdoğan: acutely aware of his country’s geopolitical value, intent on remaining at equal distance from NATO and Russia, confident in his proclaimed ambition for mediating for peace everywhere possible, and often ready to shed a given foreign policy option if he finds a more attractive alternative.”

Şafak Erdem

Şafak Erdem was born in Istanbul in 1993. He completed primary and secondary school in Istanbul, then studied philosophy and sociology as an undergraduate at Boğaziçi University. He is currently doing a master's degree in philosophy.

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May 2024