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Smart Take | Millions of Voters Headed to the Polls in Turkey

March 27, 20242:03

Local elections in Turkey will be a test of President Tayyip Erdoğan’s support as his party tries to win back key cities, like Istanbul and Ankara, that it lost several years ago. Middle East Program Coordinator Yusuf Can provides insights into what is at stake in these municipal elections and what the results could portend for Turkey’s future. He covers the central role that Istanbul plays in elections, how Turkish politics could change if Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu wins again, and how another win for Erdoğan could be a catalyst for Turkish youth leaving the country. 

Video Transcript

  • This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

    Obviously, it's 81 cities, 4,000 local officials are going to be elected at the end of the day. But the main the pearl of the election, if you will, the main chunk of the election will be Istanbul. It's up to 20 million people. And whoever wins Istanbul kind of shapes the national narrative because in Turkey, pretty much everything is about Istanbul. 

    If that's Erdogan's candidate, Murat Kurum, that will give out, as I said, the relief to moving forward. He can take a step back from authoritarianism, which is unlikely, but since he doesn't need that anymore because he will control basically everything in Turkey, the economy, etc. 

    If İmamoğlu wins, which is more likely even if it's with a smaller margin. The polls show that he's leading, he's leading the group of candidates. But İmamoğlu wins, that will actually change Turkish politics in a very different way and will give the opposition the energy it needs moving forward in the next few years. Because the last election in May, the opposition lost a lot of energy and enthusiasm and kind of like a lot of the voter base, became apathetic, like maybe they just lost hope in Turkish politics. Up to 70, 80% of research shows that 60%. 

    But a big chunk of Turkish youth want to actually move out of the country to Western countries, migrate for better opportunities and with İmamoğlu losing and Erdogan increasing its power in the country, I think it would be it would be destructive to a lot of younger generation, especially the educated youth. They would not want to stay in Turkey more than they did before the election. So İmamoğlu's victory, whether which party you support or not is actually is going to be very important moving forward for for Turkey to actually have any form of democratic politics 


Yusuf Can

Yusuf Can

Program Coordinator
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Middle East Program

The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform US foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  Read more