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    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan waves to the crowd during the Extraordinary Congress of the ruling AK Party (AKP) in Ankara, Turkey May 21, 201

    Opposition Mayors in Key Turkish Cities to Face Uphill Struggle - Scholar

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    MOSCOW (Sputnik) - Despite winning the mayoral elections in key Turkish cities, Ankara and Istanbul, controlled by the ruling party for the past 25 years, the opposition will have to work hard under government’s scrutiny because President Erdogan and his AK party remain strong, experts told Sputnik.

    The municipal elections were held in Turkey on Sunday. Candidates from 13 political parties took part. Citizens voted to elect the mayors of cities, provincial capitals and municipal districts along with local assembly representatives.

    The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), like in general elections in 2018, was in alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The opposition Nation Alliance was formed by the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Good Party (IYI).

    On Monday, Erdogan declared his ruling AK Party's victory in the local elections. At the same time, the leader of the major opposition CHP party claimed his party’s candidates winning mayor positions in Turkey's largest cities, Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir.

    The ruling AK Party won local elections in 39 provinces of Turkey. CHP candidates got voters support in 21 provinces, including Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, Antalya and Adana.

    The final results of the municipal elections are expected to be published in a few days after all appeals are considered.

    Opposition Mayors Face Uphill Struggle 

    "It is a big step. But still Erdogan has been controlling all the branches of the government plus the media. In this structure, the opposition mayors in Istanbul and Ankara will really have hard time managing the municipality under the close government scrutiny," Dr. Abdullah Aydogan, a research scholar at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, told Sputnik.

    READ MORE: Erdogan Vows to Appeal Municipal Election Results 'Wherever Needed' — Reports

    The expert pointed out that the auditors will be focusing on the opposition mayors along with the media, following closely their every step.

    The same point of view was echoed by Seda Demiralp, an associate professor of political science at the Isik University in Istanbul, saying that before the local election Erdogan warned voters that opposition mayors would face difficulties in getting necessary government backing for fulfilling their responsibilities.

    "Thus, [Ekrem] Imamoglu and [Mansur] Yavas may have to work extra hard to overcome potential obstacles thrown at them by the central government," Demiralp told Sputnik.

    Dr. A. Kadir Yildirim, a fellow for the Middle East at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, in his comments to Sputnik expressed opinion that such results of the municipal elections were absolutely not expected by the ruling AK Party.

    "It is unclear at this time which direction the AKP might go — greater repression to ensure survival in the office or take the results as a rebuke by the electorate of AKP’s recent policies," the scholar said.

    Dr. Yidirim added that the outcomes of the election are a major shock to the ruling AK Party and Erdogan, as the AKP and its predecessors controlled Ankara and Istanbul for the last 25 years.

    AKP Control Not Absolute  

    According to Dr. Seda Demiralp, Erdogan’s AKP continues to keep strong positions even if opposition success in the local elections demonstrates signs of a weaker grip on power.

    "Election results show that the AKP, despite economic downturns and setbacks, still have significant support throughout Turkey, especially in the countryside. However, the opposition’s victory in Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir signal that the AKP’s control is not absolute, but in fact, it is finally showing signs of weakening," the expert said.

    Dr. Demiralp called the shift of Istanbul and Ankara from AKP to CHP rule a positive sign for Turkish democracy.

    In turn Dr. Abdullah Aydogan said that prior to the elections he was more skeptical and was thinking that Erdogan would not let opposition win in Ankara and Istanbul.

    "However the fact that the government agency waited 24 hours before announcing the Istanbul results and all the debates that have been continuing on possible AKP reactions, at least, show that accepting the CHP victory in Istanbul is a really difficult decision for AKP," Aydogan said.

    READ MORE: Erdogan Condemns Armed Scuffles at Municipal Elections in Turkey

    The expert stressed that losing two key cities will influence AKP's use of municipalities for sustaining its patronage networks.

    Dr. A. Kadir Yildirim highlighted that winning mayor seats in Ankara and Istanbul provides some hope for the opposition.

    "Critically, this hope hinges on the opposition’s ability to first deliver services in these municipalities to constituencies. If the CHP can deliver, then the party might have an opportunity to gain greater traction among the electorate," Dr. Yildirim said.

    The scholar also emphasised that despite losing in two key cities, Ankara and Istanbul, the AK Party actually increased its vote share nationwide compared to previous local elections.

    Further Outlook 

    According to Dr. Demiralp the loss of Ankara and Istanbul signals important turning points in the trajectory of the AK Party’s future.

    "If the two new mayors of these cities, Imamoglu and Yavas, do a good job, they can significantly increase their parties’ electoral success in the 2023 general elections. One of these two names could even run for presidency in the 2023 elections with a good chance of winning, depending on their performance as mayors," Dr. Demiralp said.

    Dr. Demiralp concluded that the government realizes that losing Istanbul and Ankara is a major setback and if the CHP party mayors perform well in the next four years this could cost the AK Party the general elections.

    General elections will be held in Turkey in 2023. The citizens will elect members of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and a new president of the country for a five-year term. The previous Turkish general elections were held on June 24, 2018.

    The views and opinions expressed by the speakers do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    election, Justice and Development Party (AK) Party, Republican People’s Party (CHP), Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey, Istanbul, Ankara
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