ISTANBUL – An opposition party candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, won a second victory in the do-over race for Istanbul mayor, despite a determined effort by Turkey’s powerful president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to keep the seat in the hands of the ruling party.
The ruling party candidate, Binali Yildirim, conceded the race shortly after preliminary results showed Imamoglu leading with nearly 54 percent of the votes.
“As of now, my opponent Ekrem Imamoglu is leading the election. I congratulate him. I wish him success,” Yildirim said in a televised speech. “Elections mean democracy and this election has once again demonstrated that democracy in Turkey is working perfectly.”
The first election was held at the end of March, and the ruling party challenged results that showed Imamoglu had won by a slim margin. The state election board annulled the results and ordered a revote, on technical grounds.
Imamoglu’s win on Sunday gave Turkey’s main opposition party control of Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city and its commercial hub, after decades of ruling party control.
It was also a potent sign that Erdogan’s political fortunes may have ebbed. The Turkish president at one point campaigned daily for Yildirim, staking his own storied political brand on the outcome of the race. Erdogan’s ruling party, concerned about voter apathy, had spared no effort to turn out the party faithful in advance of the vote.
The loss was especially bitter for Erdogan because it occurred at home. He was born and raised in Istanbul and soared to political prominence as the city’s mayor 25 years ago. Istanbul served as the financial wellspring for the ruling party’s patronage networks. And it was a showcase for Erdogan’s ambition, including megaprojects. The massive, sprawling new Istanbul Airport, which opened earlier this year, was the latest of those projects.
Voters in both races said that the faltering economy was a central concern. Some people also said they were angered by the cancellation of March’s vote, viewing it as an unacceptable intervention into Turkey’s democracy.
At a polling station in the conservative Fatih neighborhood on Sunday, Kader Esen, 32, said that she and most of her extended family had voted for the AKP candidate back in March.
But on Sunday, the family – roughly 30 people — voted for Imamoglu instead, she said. “I changed my vote because I thought an injustice was done,” she said, referring to the previous vote.