A political gamble by Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan backfired spectacularly on Sunday as the opposition won a resounding victory in the repeat of an Istanbul mayoral election according to early results.
Ekrem Imamoglu, the opposition challenger in a race for control of Turkey’s biggest and most important city, had won the contest in a previous vote but was stripped of his narrow victory after claims of fraud by Mr Erdogan’s ruling party. On Sunday, preliminary results showed that the 49-year-old former district major not only won the rerun of the vote but massively increased his majority.
“This amounts to everyone together opening a new page for Istanbul,” Mr Imamoglu said after the result became clear.
“Today 16 million Istanbul residents have renewed our faith in democracy and our trust in justice,” he added. He described the result as a new chapter not only for Istanbul but for everyone in Turkey. “It’s a new start,” he said
The second defeat will come as a crushing blow for Mr Erdogan, who has for years warned his party faithful that losing Istanbul means losing Turkey.
Mr Imamoglu won close to 54 per cent of the vote, compared to 45 per cent for Binali Yildirim, the former prime minister who stood for the ruling party, according to initial results published by the state-run Anadolu news agency.
In a televised speech, Mr Yildirim said that his opponent was in the lead and appeared to concede defeat.
“My opponent Ekrem Imamoglu is ahead. I congratulate him and wish him success,” Mr Yildirim said. “An election means democracy. This election once again proves that democracy works extremely well and flawlessly in Turkey. The final results will be announced later. I hope these results will be fortuitous for Istanbul.”
Mr Imamoglu increased his lead in the city of 10.5m voters from less than 14,000 votes in the initial vote to more than 700,000. Those figures were based on almost 98 per cent of ballot boxes, Anadolu said.
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.
The Turkish president, who built his own political career on the back of winning Istanbul mayorship in 1994, must now add an insurgent opposition to the wealth of challenges that he is facing, including a struggling an economy and high tensions with the US.