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Turkish opposition candidate declared Istanbul mayor following recounts

After 17 days of disputes and recounts, the CHP's Ekrem Imamoglu is declared winner with one final AKP complaint still in play
Ekrem Imamoglu, newly declared mayor of Istanbul, earlier this month after election results were first announced (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Turkish electoral authorities have officially declared opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu the winner of the Istanbul election, after 17 days of objections and recounts that increased tensions in the country and weakened investor confidence amid a recession.

The Istanbul Election Board formally announced the Republican People's Party (CHP) candidate as the victor in the 31 March election on Wednesday, following the completion of partial recount overnight.

'I’m honoured. I’m proud. I take over the mandate on behalf of 16 million of Istanbul citizens'

- Ekrem Imamoglu, newly declared mayor of Istanbul

Final results show that Imamoglu won the race with a 14,000-vote lead over former prime minister and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate Binali Yildirim.

Hundreds of people welcomed Imamoglu outside the Istanbul Court in the Caglayan district with clapping and chants as he entered, shaking hands and trading smiles with supporters.

Several hours later, as he entered the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality building where the mayor's office is located, he told several thousand people who had gathered: “I’m honoured. I’m proud. I take over the mandate on behalf of 16 million of Istanbul citizens.

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"We never give up on Turkish people’s belief in democracy. We know the needs of this city. We know the demands of all people who live here. We will begin to work swiftly and transparently for everyone, without discriminating against any group of colour and belief. We expect the relevant election board to end the uncertainty finally. May God help us.”

Later, from a balcony of the building, he told the crowd: “I salute Turks, Kurds, Armenians and Greeks, and all people. Welcome Istanbul. We didn’t abandon our founding values, nor our beliefs, nor Mustafa Kemal Ataturk”

The election board refused several objections tabled by the AKP on Wednesday. However, earlier this week, party officials filed a separate complaint - including three luggage cases full of evidence - with the Supreme Election Board (YSK) to annul the election results. YSK is expected to make a final decision within a week.

This is the first time in 25 years that parties affiliated with Turkish President Recep Tayyip have lost control of Istanbul. The AKP's losses in Istanbul and Ankara, along with several other cities, represent the biggest electoral blow to the party since it first gained electoral success in 2002.

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Beyond its symbolic importance as Turkey's economic and cultural capital, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IBB) is a battleground between the ruling party and the opposition as a result of its vast resources, including a $7.5bn budget and employment opportunities.

Imamoglu, Istanbul's new mayor until YSK makes its final decision, conducted an election campaign based on love and inclusivity. Observers cited his warm and humble personality and stamina on the campaign trail as one of the main reasons behind his success. 

However, the ruling party is still standing its ground. Ali Ihsan Yavuz, deputy chairman of the AKP, alleged in a televised statement earlier on Wednesday that irregularities had stained the election process and results should therefore be declared null and void.

“I don’t say CHP did this, but some other people who wanted them to win steal votes,” he said.

Despite the allegations brought by AKP officials, several analysts have said they believe that the unusually long process of recounts and objections has undermined confidence in Turkish electoral process.

AKP spokesman Omer Celik told journalists earlier this month that objections were part of the elections as in several cases where CHP applications led to recounts and the annulment of elections. “The judiciary is the ultimate arbiter in Turkey’s elections as in any other country,” he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this month that contested elections were causing disturbance within the population and therefore renewal of Istanbul election was needed.

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