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Turkish opposition claims Ankara win, leads in Istanbul count

Istanbul has been plastered with posters showing Erdogan and Kurum together (Yasin AKGUL)
Istanbul has been plastered with posters showing Erdogan and Kurum together (Yasin AKGUL)

Turkey's main opposition party on Sunday claimed victory in Istanbul and Ankara with its rising political star emerging from local elections as a serious challenger to veteran President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Partial results from across the nation of 85 million people showed major advances for the Republican People's Party (CHP) at the expense of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) that has dominated politics for more than two decades.

Erdogan, 70, had launched an all-out personal campaign to win back Istanbul, the economic powerhouse where he was once mayor. But rampant inflation and economic crisis have hit confidence in the ruling party.

With 96 percent of ballot boxes opened, Istanbul's CHP mayor Ekrem Imamoglu said he had seen off the challenge of Erdogan's candidate by more than one million votes. "We have won the election," he declared.

Large crowds filled the square outside the Istanbul city headquarters waving Turkish flags and lighting torches to celebrate the result.

After casting his vote, Imamoglu emerged to applause and chants of "Everything will be fine", the slogan he used when he first took the city hall from the AKP in 2019.

The 52-year-old is increasingly seen as the biggest rival to Erdogan's AKP ahead of the next presidential election in 2028.

In Ankara, the CHP mayor Mansur Yavas claimed victory in front of large crowds of supporters, declaring "the elections are over, we will continue to serve Ankara".

"Those who have been ignored have sent a clear message to those who rule this country," he added.

Yavas led with 58.6 percent of the vote to 33.5 percent for his AKP opponent, with 46.4 percent of ballot boxes opened.

The CHP was also ahead in Izmir, Turkey's third city, and Antalya where party supporters flooded onto the streets. Even some AKP stronghold towns were at risk of being lost, results indicated.

"Voters have chosen to change the face of Turkey," said CHP chairman Ozgur Ozel as the results emerged. "They want to open the door to a new political climate in our country."

- More than a mayor's race -

Although Erdogan dominated the campaign his personal role did not help overcome the widespread concerns over the country's economy.

"Everyone is worried about the day-to-day," said 43-year-old Istanbul inhabitant Guler Kaya as she voted.

"The crisis is swallowing up the middle class, we have had to change all our habits," she said. "If Erdogan wins, it will get even worse".

Erdogan has been president since 2014 and won a new term in May last year. He had called Istanbul the national "treasure" when launching his campaign to retake the city.

"This election will mark the beginning of a new era for our country," Erdogan said after casting his vote in Istanbul on Sunday.

While opposition parties had been fractured ahead of the poll, analysts predicted a stormy political future for the AKP and its allies.

Berk Esen, an academic at Sabanci University, said that the CHP had pulled off "the biggest election defeat of Erdogan's career".

"Despite an uneven playing field, government candidates have lost even in conservative strongholds. This is the CHP's best results since the 1977 elections," Esen said on his social media account.

- Unrest in southeast -

"Whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey," Erman Bakirci, a pollster from Konda Research and Consultancy, recalled Erdogan once saying.

The election was held with the country reeling from an inflation rate of 67 percent and having seen the lira currency slide from 19 to a dollar to 32 to a dollar in one year.

Armed clashes were reported in Turkey's Kurdish-majority southeast, leaving one dead and 12 wounded, a local official told AFP.

The pro-Kurdish DEM party said it had identified irregularities "in almost all the Kurdish provinces", in particular through suspicious cases of proxy voting.

Observers from France were refused access to a polling station in the region, according to the lawyers' association MLSA.

Some 61 million people were eligible to vote for mayors across Turkey's 81 provinces, as well as provincial council members and other local officials.

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