Turks are voting on Sunday in municipal elections focused on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bid to reclaim control of Istanbul from rival Ekrem Imamoglu, who aims to reassert the opposition as a political force after bitter election defeats last year.

Istanbul Mayor Imamoglu dealt Erdogan and his Ak Parti the biggest electoral blow of two decades in power with his win in the 2019 vote. The president struck back in 2023 by securing re-election and a parliament majority with his nationalist allies.

Sunday’s results could now reinforce Erdogan’s control of Nato-member Turkey, or signal change in the major emerging economy’s divided political landscape. An Imamoglu win would be seen to be fuelling expectations of him becoming a future national leader.

Polling stations opened at 7am in eastern Turkey and elsewhere at 8am, with more than 61 million people registered to vote. Voting ends at 5pm and initial results are expected by 10pm.

In Istanbul, a city of 16 million people that drives Turkey’s economy, polls suggest a tight race as Imamoglu faces a challenge from Ak Parti candidate Murat Kurum, a former minister.

The results are likely to be shaped in part by economic woes driven by near 70 per cent inflation, and by Kurdish and Islamist voters weighing up the government’s performance.


While the main prize for Erdogan is Istanbul, he also seeks to win back the capital Ankara. Both cities were won by the opposition in 2019 after being under the rule of his Ak Parti and conservative predecessors for the previous 25 years.

Erdogan’s prospects have been helped by the collapse of the opposition alliance that he defeated last year, though Imamoglu still appeals to voters beyond his main opposition CHP.

Voters of the main pro-Kurdish party were crucial to Imamoglu’s 2019 success. Their Dem party this time is fielding its own candidate in Istanbul, but many Kurds are expected to put aside party loyalty and vote for him again.

In the mainly Kurdish southeast, Dem aims to reaffirm its strength after the state replaced pro-Kurdish mayors with state-appointed ‘trustees’ following previous elections over alleged militant ties.

One factor working against Erdogan is a rise in support for the Islamist YRP due to its hardline stance against Israel over the Gaza conflict and dissatisfaction with the Ak Parti’s handling of the economy.