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Istanbul election: Imamoglu secures decisive victory in re-run mayoral vote

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suffers biggest political defeat of career as his AKP candidate loses contest
Crowds celebrate Ekrem Imamoglu's victory in Istanbul's mayoral election on Sunday night (Reuters)
By Ragip Soylu in Istanbul, Turkey

Ekrem Imamoglu decisively won Istanbul’s re-run mayoral election on Sunday, with the chair of Turkey's Supreme Election Board (YSK) declaring preliminary official results showed the main opposition CHP candidate had taken 54.21 percent of the vote.

Binali Yildirim, from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), took 44.99 percent, with the turnout slightly up from March's cancelled election at 84.5 percent, the YSK's Sadi Guven announced on Monday morning.

“Not only a single candidate, or party, but all of Turkey has won the election,” said Imamoglu of his victory, speaking on Sunday evening after Yildirim had conceded defeat.

”You cannot hide the reality by burying it,” he said in an apparent reference to March’s mayoral vote during nationwide elections that Turkey’s election board ordered to be re-run because of irregularities cited in AKP complaints.

The Turkish lira, bonds and shares all gained on Monday following the result.

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The preliminary figures showed Imamoglu on 4,741,868 votes, with Yildirim on 3,935,453.

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Imamoglu had won in March by just 13,000 votes, or less than 0.1 percent, in a city with more than 10 million voters - this time the figures showed he had won by 806,415 votes.

After breaking a 35-year-old record for the highest tally, Imamoglu said the result would “open a mutual page” in Istanbul and pledged to govern the city with “justice and love instead of arrogance and alienation”.

He also said voters had upheld Turkey’s tradition of democracy: “You taught a lesson to those who would liken Turkey to countries in close proximity to us.”

Imamoglu ended his speech by quoting the slogan from his winning campaign: “Everything will be beautiful.”

Yildirim, a close political ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a former prime minister, earlier conceded defeat in a live news statement.

“I congratulate my opponent. He is leading,” he said.

AKP whip Bulent Turan was not so generous, indicating that the party leadership would hold some members accountable for the failure.

“This is a time for accountability and judgement for people who saddened our leader and supporters in Istanbul,” he said.

Later, Erdogan tweeted: "I wish that the results of the renewed mayoral elections for Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality bring goodness. The national will has manifested itself once again. I congratulate Ekrem Imamoglu who won the election according to the unofficial results."

Galip Dalay, prominent Turkey expert and visiting scholar at the University of Oxford, said the election was the biggest defeat of Erdogan's political career.

"He lost middle-class, white-collar educated conservatives as well as Kurds," Dalay told MEE. "His steps to strengthen his power, such as transforming Turkey into an executive presidency, his alliance with Turkish nationalist MHP and the election re-run in Istanbul have all backfired. His power monopoly in conservative circles is already eroding. New actors are emerging.

"It will be important to see what Erdogan’s next steps are. If he can make a real policy shift to mend his relations with middle-class citizens and Kurdish voters, he could still preserve his standing. He is still an effective player, albeit undermined." Dalay added.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Turkey director at the German Marshall Fund think-tank, said: “If the AK Party had accepted the result in March 31, it would have lost just Istanbul with a small margin. With today’s defeat, it’s lost much more.”

Turkish democracy

He added: “As I have been saying, elections in Turkey are unfair, but competitive with the opposition having a real chance of winning. Turkish democracy is knocked down, but not knocked out.”

Istanbul, Turkey’s economic and cultural capital, has been an AKP stronghold since the political emergence of Erdogan, himself a former mayor of the city in the 1990s at the beginning of the century.

Ekrem Imamoglu
Ekrem Imamoglu (R), pictured with his wife Dilek Imamoglu (C) and their son Semih Imamoglu, as they cast their votes in Istanbul (AFP)

A second defeat in months to Imamoglu marks another major setback for the ruling party, which also lost control of the capital, Ankara, and other major cities, in March.

In a message directed at Erdogan, Imamoglu said he wanted to work with the president “in a synchronised way”, and cited transport, refugees and earthquake preparation as important areas.

”I would like to visit you and discuss our roadmap for the city,” he said.

Turkey will not vote in national elections until 2023.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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