Istanbul voters go to the polls on Sunday to cast their ballots in a high-stakes rerun of a mayoral election.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party secured a rerun of the original contest in March after claiming that the victory of Ekrem Imamoglu, an opposition challenger who won with a slim majority, was rendered invalid by widespread irregularities.
Turkey’s electoral board annulled the result in the country’s biggest city and ordered a new vote, a move that the opposition decried as “downright dictatorship.”
Polling suggests the gamble by the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) may have backfired. Several surveys, including the AKP’s own internal research, put Mr Imamoglu on course to win again.
The former district mayor ran an upbeat campaign that highlighted the injustice that he says he and his supporters suffered when he was stripped of his original victory. He promised to deliver better services to Istanbul’s 16m residents, and to cut corruption and waste.
Mr Erdogan’s party sought to echo Mr Imamoglu by striking a more positive tone than in its previous campaign, which was dominated by warnings about the threat of terrorism. It focused much of its energy on intensive door-to-door campaigning, trying to win over those who stayed at home in the first vote and seeking to persuade members of the country’s Kurdish minority to back them.
Polling stations in Beyoglu and Eyupsultan, two mixed districts in the centre of the city, hosted a steady stream of voters on Sunday morning. Many people said they would back the same candidate that they had on March 31.
Ali Aslan, 48, a real estate agent and AKP supporter, said it was his “duty” to stand up for Binali Yildirim — the former prime minister put forward by the AKP — whom he said had been treated unfairly. “The AKP’s guarantee is its past performance, they have transformed Istanbul into a world-class city,” he said.
But Ahmet Kilic, a 55-year-old former fishmonger, said he had switched his vote from the AKP candidate to Mr Imamoglu.
He said he was tired of Mr Erdogan’s party, which has been at the helm of Turkey for more than a decade and a half, criticising what he said was its failure to deliver on its promises and its polarising rhetoric.
Mr Kilic said that it was “wrong” of the election board to overturn the original result. “I voted for the AKP but I know that Imamoglu won,” he said. “It was taken away from him. I hope that he will win again and that he will provide good services to Istanbul.”
A second defeat in Istanbul would be a painful blow to Mr Erdogan, who already suffered the loss of Ankara, the Turkish capital, and a string of other cities in March.
The Turkish president, who began his own political ascent after winning election as mayor of Istanbul 25 years ago, has often warned the AKP that losing Turkey’s biggest and most prosperous city means losing the country as a whole.
A fresh Istanbul defeat would be likely to amplify concerns about Mr Erdogan’s style of leadership at a time of deep discontent among current and former members of his ruling party.
It would also mean losing an economic powerhouse with a budget of TL24bn ($4bn) that has for decades sustained the patronage networks that form a pillar of the AKP’s support.
Polls close at 5pm local time (2pm GMT), with results expected on Sunday night.
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