Erdogan Dealt Stunning Blow as Istanbul Elects Rival Ekrem Imamoglu

Erdogan Dealt Stunning Blow as Istanbul Elects Rival Ekrem Imamoglu

Turkish opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu won the redo of the Istanbul mayor’s race by a landslide on Sunday, in a stinging indictment of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s economic policies and his refusal to accept an earlier defeat.

According to the state-run Anadolu Agency, Imamoglu of the CHP party won 54% of the vote, and the ruling AK Party’s candidate, former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim captured 45%, with more than 95% of ballot boxes opened. AK Party had narrowly lost the March 31 election, and the broad margin this time for the political upstart telegraphed undeniably that voters are concerned about the crumbling of Turkey’s democratic foundations and an economy reeling from a spike in consumer prices and unemployment.

Yildirim conceded the election. Erdogan, who had challenged Imamoglu’s win in the original ballot, said last week that he would accept the outcome of the race but hinted that legal troubles could await the opposition candidate. Losing Istanbul is much more than ceding control of Turkey’s largest city and commercial powerhouse. The Istanbul mayor’s job was the springboard for Erdogan’s own political career, and if Imamoglu acquits himself well in the job, then the president may find himself with a future challenger.

“His performance would determine whether he can become a presidential rival” in June 2023 elections,” Ersin Kalaycioglu, a professor of social sciences at Istanbul-based Sabanci University, said before the election.

Defeat in Istanbul, home to about a fifth of Turkey’s 82 million people, also strips Erdogan’s party of a major source of patronage and handouts. By some estimates, the city absorbs a quarter of all public investment and accounts for a third of the country’s $748 billion economy.

The decisive nature of the win might put investors at ease. A narrow victory would have brought the legitimacy of the vote into question, Anastasia Levashova, a fund manager at Blackfriars Asset Management in London, said before the election.

One thing that may have tipped the scale so heavily in Imamoglu’s favor this time is the shift in sentiment among Kurdish voters. Some had sat out the original vote, but over the past week, the jailed former leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP party called on his followers to support Imamoglu.

“This guy may be the only one to unite opposition parties under one roof in so many years,” said Gizem Konak, 26, who had supported HDP in the past. “I think Imamoglu has the potential to change the destiny of this country.”

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