Istanbul votes for mayor again
Ekrem Imamoglu won by just 13,000 votes, prompting allegations of irregularities from Turkey’s AK party, which has held a firm grip on the country since the early 2000s.
The re-run, although confined to Turkey’s commercial and cultural hub, has the appearance of a general election. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes that controlling Istanbul is vital to the survival of his populist regime.
Imamoglu says he will “battle for democracy” and polling suggests he should beat former prime minister Binali Yildirim again if a free vote is allowed.
“We’re going to win the elections. We are going to let democracy grow,” Imamoglu told the media. “I’m going to take office. Nobody has the power or the right to stop this from happening.” His supporters would “be an example not only for Istanbul but for the entire country”, the candidate added.
The election is being viewed as a referendum on Erdogan and his party, after an economic slump and a currency crisis.
Istanbul is his home and where he started his political career as a successful, dynamic mayor in the 1990s.
Erdogan, a former mayor of Istanbul, has repeatedly said of the city of 15 million people, “he who wins Istanbul wins Turkey”.
The results are expected by Monday morning.
Imamoglu, 49, of the Republican People’s Party, is already mayor of the city’s Beylikduzu district.
Yildirim was a founding member of AKP and prime minister from 2016 until last year when Turkey became a presidential quasi-democracy and the PM’s job was axed after the April referendum.
“If you lose Istanbul, you lose Turkey,” said Onur Orser, a mechanic, repeating Erdogan’s sentiments. “Losing Istanbul means losing the presidency. That’s how it is. That’s why he’s scared, isn’t it? He didn’t make this big a deal about losing Ankara.”
Imamoglu, who was a relative unknown before the mayoral contest, campaigned under the message, “everything will be all right”.
Istanbul has seen an economic recession that some blame on Erdogan.
Imamoglu told supporters after the March annulment: “We will win back our rights with a smile on our face [and] embrace those who resist us”.
Everyone seems to agree it is a key election for the dictatorial Erdogan.
“Erdogan is extremely worried,” said the independent journalist Murat Yetkin.
“He is playing every card he has. If he loses, by whatever margin, it’s the end of his steady political rise over the past quarter of a century,” Yetkin said.
“In reality, he’ll still be president, his coalition will still control parliament – although many will perceive his defeat as the beginning of the end for him.”
Istanbul is seen as key to the presidency. Picture credit: Wikimedia