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A scene from Imamoglu's victory speech last night in Istanbul. Photo: Mehmet Eser/Anadolu Agency/Getty

An election some feared would be the last gasp for Turkish democracy has instead emboldened the opposition and stoked belief that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is vulnerable.

Catch up quick: The ruling AKP already lost the powerful Istanbul mayoralty on March 31, by 0.2%. But Erdogan refused to accept the result and forced a rerun. On Sunday, Ekrem Imamoglu of the center-left CHP won by a stunning 9.2%, dealing Erdogan the most damaging electoral defeat of a political career that began when he was himself elected mayor of Istanbul in 1994.

Between the lines: It was widely believed that Erdogan would only force fresh elections in Istanbul, a city he views as central to his hold on Turkey, if victory was assured. Instead, Turkey's financial and cultural capital will change hands after 25 years of AKP control.

  • Istanbul is vital to the AKP’s finances and political patronage system, Lisel Hintz of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies said today at a Washington Institute event.
  • “The books are going to open, and we’re going to see what was being done in Istanbul for all these years,” she added, before cautioning that Erdogan and his allies could thwart Imamoglu's ability to govern.

The big picture: Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics since becoming prime minister in 2003, overseeing an economic boom and racking up victory after victory on conservative Islamist platforms that emphasize his man-of-the-people credentials.

  • He slowly sliced away at Turkish democracy for years, according to Soner Cagaptay, author of "The New Sultan." After a failed coup in 2016, he gave up the pretense, demonizing his opponents and consolidating power in a new executive system.
  • Cagaptay argues that Erdogan is the “inventor of 21st century populism” — a pioneer among the strongmen who portray their followers as the only “good citizens” and frame checks on their power as rejections of the popular will.
  • But he's been weakened by an economic downturn and now faces a resurgent opposition. “Erdogan has created a new Erdogan,” Cagaptay says, arguing that it's Imamoglu who can now claim to represent those persecuted by the establishment.

What’s next: The soft-spoken Imamoglu may have offered a new path for the opposition. He emphasized inclusiveness and refused to take Erdogan’s bait, while making inroads with his base.

  • There might not be an opportunity to test that path anytime soon. Turkey’s next elections aren’t due until June 2023.
  • By then, Turkey could face both an economic crisis and a geostrategic one, as the alliance with the U.S. breaks down in part over Erdogan’s decision to buy s-400 missiles from Russia.

The bottom line: Erdogan has lost Istanbul, but he still has extraordinary control over Turkey’s politics, judiciary and media. Sunday’s result shows he can be defeated, but not anytime soon.

Go deeper

McCarthy jokes about hitting Pelosi with gavel if he becomes Speaker, in new audio

Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) can be heard saying "it would be hard not to hit" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with the speaker's gavel if Republicans retake the House in 2022 and he becomes speaker, according to new audio posted to Twitter by a Main Street Nashville reporter.

Driving the news: McCarthy made the comments during a fundraising event in Tennessee, as he was handed an oversized gavel by members of the Tennessee congressional delegation, reports CNN.

Updated 4 hours ago - World

U.S. and U.K. blame Iran for drone strike on oil tanker

Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. Photo: Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Sunday that the United States and United Kingdom, respectively, now believe Iran was likely responsible for last week's drone strike on an oil tanker in the Arabian sea.

Why it matters: The United States and Britain now join Israel in accusing Tehran of being behind the July 29 attack off the coast of Oman. Iran has denied involvement.

10 hours ago - Sports

Suni Lee wins bronze medal in uneven bars

Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

U.S. gymnast Sunisa "Suni" Lee won her 3rd Olympic medal on Sunday, taking home bronze in the individual uneven bars event.

Driving the news: Also on Sunday, U.S. gymnast MyKayla Skinner won the silver medal in the vault on Sunday after stepping in for Simone Biles, who withdrew from the event to prioritize her mental health and well-being.