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Istanbul mayoral election re-run: Opposition wins again in major defeat for Erdogan's party

The re-run took place after a new election was ordered following the opposition’s victory in March.

Ekrem Imamoglu waves to his supporters following his victory in Istanbul.
Ekrem Imamoglu waves to his supporters following his victory in Istanbul.
Image: AP/PA Images

TURKEY’S PRESIDENT RECEP Tayyip Erdogan suffered a bruising defeat yesterday as the opposition candidate in Istanbul’s controversial mayoral election won a significant victory.

Ekrem Imamoglu had won the first mayoral vote in March by a slim margin of 13,000 votes over Erdogan’s chosen candidate, Binali Yildirim. 

Yildirim had contested that result and a new election was ordered.

With some 99 percent of ballots counted by Sunday night, Imamoglu was winning by more than 775,000 votes – 54 percent, with Yildirim on 45 percent, according to Turkey’s  state news agency Anadolu.

“It was not a single group or party, but the whole of Istanbul and Turkey that won this election,” Imamoglu said in his victory speech. 

“Mr President, I am ready to work in harmony with you. I convey from here my request to meet with you in the shortest time possible,” he  added. 

Critics had accused Erdogan of refusing to give up control of Istanbul, Turkey’s economic powerhouse and a crucial source of patronage for Islamic conservatives since he won the mayorship himself a quarter of a century ago.

The Turkish leader conceded defeat this time, writing on Twitter: “I congratulate Ekrem Imamoglu who has won the election based on preliminary results.”

Imamoglu, a little-known district mayor at the start of the year, ran a positive campaign under the slogan: “Everything will be fine.”

The defeat is a significant one for Erdogan’s ruling AKP party, which has been in power in Turkey since 2002 and remains the most popular political force nationwide. 

AKP candidate Yildirim, a former prime minister, quickly conceded defeat. 

“It’s a colossal defeat for Yildirim but also Erdogan. His gamble (in calling for a replay of the election) backfired,” said Berk Esen, an assistant professor of international relations at Ankara’s Bilkent University.

It comes as an economic slump and rising prices have dented the president’s reputation for economic stewardship, with the AKP also losing the capital Ankara in March. 

“The AKP elites will probably try to de-emphasise the election and act like it’s no big deal,” said Esen. 

Erdogan has already played down the importance of the re-run, saying last week that the choice of mayor was “only a change in the shop window” since the AKP controls almost two-thirds of the city’s districts.

For many conservatives, Erdogan remains a hero who has brought prosperity and fiercely defended the country’s interests since taking over in 2003.

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