Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 July 2019

Istanbul election: opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu wins decisively

The dramatic increase in support for Imamoglu shows the AKP miscalculated in push for a rerun

Opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu won a decisive victory in the rerun of Istanbul’s mayoral election on Sunday.

His opponent, Binali Yildirim of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), conceded defeat as he trailed Mr Imamoglu by more than nine points.

With most ballot boxes counted, Mr Imamoglu won 54.89 per cent to Mr Yildirim’s 45.15 per cent.

The result was a huge increase for Mr Imamoglu on the overturned March ballot that he won by 13,700 votes.

“At the moment my opponent is leading,” Mr Yildirim said in a televised address from the AKP’s headquarters in Istanbul soon after the lead became apparent.

“I congratulate him. I hope by God that these results will bring good things to all of Istanbul and the future of Istanbul,” Mr Yildirim said.

His words were greeted with wild celebrations at the offices of Mr Imamoglu’s Republican People’s Party (CHP), in a race seen as a test for the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mr Imamoglu thanked his supporters and opponents and promised a brighter future for Istanbul.

“We are opening a new page in Istanbul,” he said. “On this new page there will be justice, equality, love.

“We will stop the arrogance and waste. Today 16 million Istanbulites have refreshed our belief in democracy.

“I am reaching out to the president. I want to have a meeting with him as soon as possible. This is not a victory, it’s a new beginning.”

The dramatic increase in support for Mr Imamoglu showed the AKP miscalculated in pushing for the results of the March 31 local election to be cancelled.

Earlier, Mr Imamoglu, whose win was annulled after only 18 days in office, was mobbed by throngs of optimistic supporters as he arrived with his wife and son to vote in Beylikduzu, the western suburb where he was previously a district mayor.

In a speech at a primary school, he said: “In the name of our democracy and in the name of Istanbul, our fellow citizens with their understanding of rights, law and justice will make the best decision. Everything will be fine.”

The cheering crowds and media presence stood in contrast to Mr Yildirim’s polling station in Tuzla, on the Asian side of the city.

Accompanied by his wife, the former prime minister was surrounded by party officials as his young granddaughter dropped his voting slip into the ballot box.

Following his win, Mr Imamoglu’s supporters clogged the streets, with car horns blaring as flag-waving passengers were greeted with cheers.

“This is the answer to Erdogan after he tried to steal our votes last time,” said accountant Cem Yildiz, 34.

In a Twitter message, Mr Erdogan congratulated Mr Imamoglu. “I hope this result will lead to good. The national will has prevailed once more.”

Mr Imamoglu, who stood for an alliance led by the CHP, has been cast in opposition circles as the victim of electoral injustice after his slender win was overturned by the Supreme Election Board following objections from the AKP.

His campaign has energised opponents of Mr Erdogan, whose 16-year rule has become increasingly authoritarian.

Mr Imamoglu’s slogan “everything will be fine” caught the mood of the opposition after the annulment of March’s results.

The catchphrase was echoed on social media, daubed in street graffiti, printed on T-shirts and chanted at football matches.

Opinion polls the week before the election showed Mr Imamoglu with a strong lead ahead of his rival.

“This time I hope our votes are allowed to count,” Esra Koc, 53, said in Besiktas, a secular-leaning district.

“No matter what the result, they cannot just take away the democratic rights of Istanbul’s people.”

The election was rerun at a time when many Istanbul residents had left the city for seaside resorts and had to travel back for the vote.

The CHP claimed that the cancellation of ferry services from the southern shores of the Marmara Sea to Istanbul from Friday was designed to stop Mr Imamoglu’s supporters voting.

“These cancellations show the fear of the ballot box held by a handful of people who don’t want to lose their seats in power,” said Canan Kaftancioglu, the CHP’s Istanbul chairwoman.

Deniz Kasapoglu, 39, was among those who drove for hours to be able to vote.

“We came from Didim yesterday to vote for Brother Ekrem,” Mr Kasapoglu said. “It was a long car journey but it will be worth it.”

The opposition employed an army of lawyers to observe ballot boxes but there were few signs of voting irregularities.

But the election authority allowed the use of unstamped or improperly stamped ballot envelopes – a decision observers said could undermine the safety of the votes.

Fears that counting irregularities could affect the outcome led volunteers to warn people not to listen to “fake news” that could lead to a premature victory declaration, similar to the one made by Mr Yildirim in March.

Updated: June 24, 2019 03:35 PM

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