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Erdogan’s Party Behind Rivals in Municipal Vote in Early Results

(Bloomberg) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party is set to suffer a major setback against the main opposition in municipal elections, according to early results published by state broadcaster TRT.

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Support for Erdogan’s AK Party across Turkey was at 37.5% with nearly a third of all ballots counted, TRT said on its website. Main opposition party CHP was leading with 39% of the votes and set to keep its hold on Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey’s largest city and the capital, respectively.

Early results show Erdogan has been losing ground since he won a third term in Turkey’s presidential elections last May. The decline is more apparent in large cities, where rampant inflation has eaten into wage earners’ purchasing power. Erdogan allowed a steep rise in the cost of lending to rein in inflation since last year and kept a lid on pensioner wages, forcing a slowdown in household spending.

“The economy is of paramount importance. Voters made a serious warning” to Erdogan’s party, Istanbul-based polling firm Sonar’s chief, Hakan Bayrakci, said after initial results. High inflation and erosion in pensioner salaries were among the biggest factors shaping voting behavior, he said.

Istanbul Race

Eyes are particularly focused on the outcome in Istanbul, where Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu was leading the race against Erdogan’s handpicked candidate with an eight-percentage-point margin, according to TRT. At stake is control of Turkey’s largest city with nearly 16 million people and a $6.6 billion annual budget that’s critical to voters during an ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

Imamoglu reclaimed control of Istanbul in 2019, bringing to an end Erdogan’s 25-year-long control of the city. His party also won the capital city Ankara from Erdogan’s party in the same elections in a stinging defeat for Turkey’s president.

Read More: Erdogan Seeks to Regain Istanbul and Vanquish His Nemesis

Islamist Defectors

Some of the decline in the ruling AKP’s votes was due to pro-Islamic New Welfare Party’s decision to field its own candidates, bringing the alliance between the two to an end. Mayors running under the party’s banner got nearly 4.5% of the votes in the early count reported by TRT.

The New Welfare severely criticized Erdogan’s economic policies and his government’s refusal to stop trade with Israel despite the war in Gaza.

Election day has been marred by violence in Diyarbakir and Mardin in the country’s Kurdish-dominated southeast, where clashes at some polling stations left at least one person dead and 22 others injured, according to the Anadolu.

Kurdish voters, who make up about 10% of Istanbul’s electorate, supported Imamoglu in 2019. In an attempt to win their support in various cities this time around, Erdogan floated the last-minute idea of a possible reconciliation with the country’s Kurdish minority.

Even so, the president said Turkey remains committed to fighting separatist Kurdish militants who he says threaten Turkey’s integrity. The pro-Kurdish DEM party has fielded its own candidates, but they’ve kept a low profile and aren’t running in all districts.

“Disastrous results for the ruling AKP — failing to win major cities and perhaps even losing national vote to the opposition CHP,” said Tim Ash, an emerging markets strategist at RBC Bluebay Asset Management.

(Updates with early results showing opposition gains from the first paragraph.)

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