Turkey's local elections: One week to go, less excitement compared to 2023 elections

There is only one week left to Turkey’s local elections. After an intense electoral campaign period for the 2023 general and presidential elections, there is not the same excitement this time. However, the results in some key provinces might lead to significant changes in Turkish politics.

Alperen Şen / Duvar English

Turkey will hold local elections on March 31, only 10 months after the 2023 general and presidential elections. The citizens will vote to elect district municipality mayors, metropolitan municipality mayors if it is a metropolitan province, members of municipal councils, and neighborhood heads ("mukhtars").

Although there is not the same excitement for the local elections as there was for the 2023 elections, the results in some key provinces might lead to significant changes in Turkish politics. Nevertheless, the main avenues and streets of the provinces are filled with election banners with candidates’ faces on them.

The local elections are coming after a devastating electoral defeat of the opposition in 2023, which led to a crack in the opposition Nation Alliance with İYİ (Good) Party’s departure.

The upcoming elections are the first major test for the new leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Özgür Özel, especially after not getting the support of the İYİ Party and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy (DEM) Party in key provinces.

On the other hand, Turkish President, and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that this election will be his final one as the Constitution limits the presidential term to two. However, some critics said this was to mobilize AKP voters to go to the ballots. 

Meanwhile, the DEM Party and Kurdish politicians are pushing for a new peace process for the Kurdish issue in the post-election period, whereas Ankara plans to launch a mass military operation in Iraq and Syria against PKK and YPG.

That’s why, the election results will be crucial for its aftermath. In case of no early elections, Turkey will not hold any other election for four years.

Let’s take a look at some provinces with only one week left until the local elections.


The megacity’s result will be the most eagerly awaited on the evening of March 31st, as the AKP aims to regain the municipality from the CHP.

Istanbul has the longest paper in the country with a meter-long ballot paper. 22 political parties and 27 independent candidates are running for the mayorship, although the race is expected to be neck-and-neck with Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, from the CHP, and former Environment and Urbanization Minister Murat Kurum, from the AKP.

In 2019, İmamoğlu unexpectedly defeated his rival Binali Yıldırım, ending 25-year of AKP legacy in the megacity. Since then, he has been considered as opposition’s one of the strongest rivals to Erdoğan.

However, his job is much more difficult this time as the İYİ Party and DEM Party fielded candidates, which refrained from doing so in 2019 to support the CHP against the AKP. However, AKP’s Kurum is also facing challenges as some of his votes might shift to former government-ally, radical Islamist New Welfare Party’s (YRP) candidate Mehmet Altınöz.

Most of the polls suggest that İmamoğlu is leading the race against Kurum. However, it is good to be cautious about pollster companies since most of them failed in the 2023 elections by suggesting the victory of the opposition’s presidential candidate, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, by a huge margin against Erdoğan.

Kurum made some blunders while speaking during his campaign, and some citizens reacted against him due to the unfinished houses of the state-run housing agency TOKİ, whose projects started during his ministry. There might be also some resentment towards the AKP over ongoing trade relations with Israel. We have to wait and see if these will influence Kurum's votes.

It is also important how much support İmamoğlu will get from the supporters of the DEM and İYİ parties. Online news outlet Medyascope recently reported that jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş might issue a statement on his social media account a few days before the election in favor of the DEM Party, which could significantly affect the result.


Mayor Mansur Yavaş, from the CHP, is considered to win the race more comfortable than İmamoğlu. His rival Turgut Altınok, district mayor of Keçiören from the AKP, has recently drawn ire with his wealth disclosure.

Altınok’s disclosed wealth included 22 plots, 25 fields, 11 dwellings, one gas station, mostly inherited from his father. It came to light that some of his fields were larger in terms of area than the Principality of Monaco.

İYİ, DEM, and YRP also named candidates in the capital Ankara, but, their effect is considered to be smaller than in Istanbul. 

Yavaş is currently focusing more on district municipalities, and gaining the majority in the municipal council.

In both Istanbul and Ankara, the CHP failed to secure a majority in the municipal councils in 2019, which led to further obstacles in their projects and services, apart from the ones already posed by the government

Yavaş also announced that this would be his last term in the Ankara mayorship should he be re-elected, but did not imply anything for its aftermath.


CHP’s long-time stronghold İzmir promises no surprises. However, the CHP might lose some support in the western province.

The party did not field Mayor Tunç Soyer, who has been in office for one term. Instead, it named the district mayor of Karşıyaka, Cemil Tugay. Again, the DEM and İYİ parties’ vote shares will be important to see how much support will CHP lose. The vote transition from the CHP to other parties could be easier in İzmir as the former is expected to win comfortably in its stronghold.

Mayor Soyer, on the other hand, has been expressing his resentment for not being named again. 

AKP’s candidate Hamza Dağ has been showing a much more moderate face in the “secular” province compared to other AKP figures. His visit to bars during Ramadan drew ire as many pointed out that he was being a hypocrite. 


The result in the quake-torn Hatay was another eagerly awaited province until the scandalous of Gökhan Zan, the candidate of the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP).

After days of struggling, the CHP had to field Lütfü Savaş, the current mayor who has been staunchly criticized for not taking accountability for the extent of the destruction in Hatay due to the Feb. 6 quakes. 

On the anniversary of the Feb. 6 earthquakes, Hatay people booed and whistled Savaş and CHP leader Özgür Özel as they joined the night march on the anniversary of the earthquakes. After the outcry, the party announced that they would reconsider his candidacy.

During this period, the CHP evaluated several figures for Hatay mayorship, most of whom rejected the offer. 

Özel also made contradictory statements. He once hinted that they could not win in Hatay with Savaş and said they could not provide an alternative to him. After Savaş’s candidacy was finalized, he said they decided to continue with Lütfü Savaş as a result of “all the data, information, and the course of the polls.”

The TİP named Gökhan Zan, a former national football player, as an alternative to the AKP and the CHP under these circumstances. Zan has been known for explaining the extent of damage of earthquakes in Hatay province in the early days.

However, the party on March 17 withdrew his candidacy upon allegations surfaced of him discussing bribes and lobbying for a sports commentator job at the state-run channel TRT. Nevertheless, Zan will appear on the ballot on March 31 despite TİP’s withdrawal, since the deadline to finalize candidates passed.

Some citizens say they are now forced to choose between the candidates of AKP and CHP as other candidates are not expected to garner enough votes to be elected. Last month, Erdoğan threatened Hatay constituents to elect the AKP candidate if they "want service."


The AKP’s Zeynel Abidin Beyazgül won the 2019 local election in the southeastern Şanlıurfa with around 60 percent of the votes.

However, in a surprising move, AKP executive and Presidential Advisor Mehmet Kasım Gülpınar has become YRP’s candidate in Şanlıurfa after he resigned from the AKP. He was elected as a Şanlıurfa deputy from the AKP four times, where he was born.

In an interview with Gazete Duvar, Gülpınar said his candidacy was “the people's demand from below.” He is considered a serious contender against the AKP’s Beyazgül. While Beyazgül argued that Gülpınar's candidacy was splitting the votes and favoring the DEM Party, Gülpınar said Beyazgül should withdraw from the race if the AKP were concerned about the DEM.

In the case of Gülpınar’s victory in Şanlıurfa, the YRP might gain a significant influence in Turkish politics in the post-election period as an alternative to the AKP. YRP leader Erbakan has been heavily criticizing the AKP, its economic policies, and trade relations with Israel for a while.

Exceeding expectations, the YRP also gained five parliamentary seats in the 2023 election.