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Erdogan's ruling party set to lose Istanbul election

Election authorities annulled the first vote in March after Erdogan’s ruling party alleged corruption.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan casts his ballot at a polling station in Istanbul
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan casts his ballot at a polling station in Istanbul
Image: Emrah Gurel/PA Images

Updated Jun 23rd 2019, 5:45 PM

THE RULING PARTY candidate in the controversial re-run of Istanbul’s mayoral election has conceded defeat in a major blow for President Recep Erdogan. 

The city returned to the polls today in a re-run of the mayoral election that was widely seen as a test of Turkish democracy as well as Erdogan’s continued popularity at a time of economic trouble.

Election authorities annulled the first vote in March after Erdogan’s ruling party alleged corruption.

Critics say Erdogan simply did not like the result, after a little-known former district mayor, 49-year-old Ekrem Imamoglu, snatched victory for the opposition by just 13,000 votes.

Initial results from the state-run Anadolu news agency showed opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu leading with 53% to Binali Yildirim’s 45% with more than 95% of ballots counted. 

“According to the result as of now my competitor Ekrem Imamoglu is leading the race. I congratulate him and wish him good luck,” Yildirim said.

The city of 15 million is Turkey’s economic powerhouse and has been a crucial source of patronage for Islamic conservatives since Erdogan himself won the mayorship a quarter-century ago.

‘A household name’

Imamoglu, of the secular Republican People’s Party, has become a household name since being stripped of his victory, depicting the rerun as “a battle for democracy”.

“Today our people will make the best decision… for the sake of our democracy, for Istanbul and also for the legitimacy of all future elections,” he said after voting.

His upbeat message under the slogan “Everything will be fine” is in contrast to the usual aggressive name-calling of Turkish politics.

Imamoglu faced Yildirim, a mild-mannered Erdogan loyalist who oversaw several huge transport projects and served as prime minister.

He struck a conciliatory tone today, saying: “If we have wronged, knowingly or unknowingly, one of our fellow Istanbulites or our challengers, if we have done something unjust, I ask for your forgiveness.”

The March election showed Erdogan’s party remains the most popular nationwide, adored by millions for overseeing dramatic growth, fiercely defending the country’s interests abroad and allowing religious conservatives a seat at the table. 

But double-digit inflation and rising unemployment have dented Erdogan’s reputation for economic stewardship and the AKP lost control of both Istanbul and the capital Ankara.

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