Opposition wins significant victory in Istanbul mayoral election

In a major setback to Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who has sought to undermine the country’s long secular tradition, the opposition coalition candidate, Ekrem İmamoğlu won a big victory in a rerun of the mayoral election, after Erdoğan’s ruling party had his earlier narrow victory annulled because of alleged improprieties.

Shortly after initial results pointing to a landslide win for the opposition coalition candidate, Ekrem İmamoğlu, emerged on Sunday evening, the candidate of the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP), Binali Yıldırım, conceded and congratulated his rival.

The repeat election, designed to undo İmamoğlu’s narrow surprise win in the 31 March contest, was an unprecedented test for both Turkey’s fragile democratic institutions and Erdoğan’s political future.

The president issued his congratulations to İmamoğlu on Twitter after initial results showed that with 99% of ballots counted the People’s Republican party (CHP) candidate had increased his lead in March, of 13,000 votes, to an astonishing 777,000, or 54%.

Crowded parties broke out on Istanbul’s main shopping streets and in liberal neighbourhoods.

İmamoğlu was embraced by voters for a platform which focused on bringing people together across the city’s religious, class and ethnic divides, and was able to paint his new campaign as a battle for the future of Turkish democracy itself.

Turkey still has some way to go to reverse course and head in a more democratic direction. But this is a hopeful sign.


  1. jrkrideau says

    I had the suspicion that İmamoğlu would win. At local and national levels the AKP party is past its Best By date and Erdoğan’s increasing autocratic behaviour is probably getting up a lot of people’s noses especially in a cosmopolitan city like Istanbul.

    The purges after the attempted coup may not have helped. If nothing else there are a lot of academic institutions in the city and I think they got hit fairly hard.

    If anything I am bit surprised how well the AKP did but I really do not follow Turkish politics so I may just be being naive.

  2. blf says

    I have not yet read any analysis by experts on the situation — and in particular why the opposition won so handily — so the following is all speculation (in no particular order):

    (1) Erdoğan’s party is “past its sell-by date”, and in particular — and this apparently a critical factor in losing the first election — the Turkish economy is tanking. Istanbul is the major economic area in Turkey, so the collapse is being noticed.

    (2) International electoral monitors were deployed, and possibly more significant, unlike the first election, TV networks other than the official(? state?)-station broadcast the count live. In the first election, as the count progressed, the broadcast repeatedly(?) cut out, leading to quite understandable — and very possibly correct — suspicions of shenanigans. I.e., people had more confidence their votes would be fairly / correctly counted.

    (3) From memory, the Kurdish opposition asked it followers to turn out en masse and vote for the opposition.

    (4) İmamoğlu was unable to articulate, both in a televised debate and in interviews, just why the rerun was necessary.

    (5) Modern Turkey has a democratic tradition, albeut only c.100 years old (and with a tolerance for military intervention). People would have been infuriated by Erdoğan’s transparent attempt to overturn a valid result on very flimsy reasons.

    (6) Modern Turkey is also decidedly secular; Erdoğan has been moving in an Islamic direction.

    Plus the confidence of knowing they did win the first time — despite probable shenanigans — combined with annoyance at having to do it all again…

    Congratulations to the people of Istanbu !

  3. blf says

    The Grauniad’s analysis, Ekrem İmamoğlu: who is Istanbul election winner and how did he do it?:

    Outside pick for opposition party built on voters’ good faith shown in March elections


    The former construction company boss entered local politics in 2009, becoming mayor of Istanbul’s middle-class Beylikdüzü district in 2014. Although an outside pick for the opposition coalition People’s Republican party (CHP) mayoral candidate, his low-key campaign strategy in March built on the good faith he had already earned among constituents as a competent and open-minded administrator.

    In speeches he stressed the importance of working together to tackle urban poverty and condemned the populist rhetoric that has become commonplace in Turkish politics. At the beginning of the year, he met with Erdoğan to discuss Istanbul’s future, a gesture that earned the respect of voters […]

    İmamoğlu was regularly seen at neighbourhood meetings discussing local issues, whereas the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) candidate, Binali Yıldırım, was sidelined by the president, who whipped up nationalist fervour at huge rallies.

    Despite almost blanket pro-government media coverage for Yıldırım, İmamoğlu’s March campaign managed to draw votes from the city’s Kurdish minority who were unhappy with the arrests of Kurdish politicians, as well as working-class AKP voters suffering from an inflation rate above 20% and rising unemployment.

    [… A]ble to play both victor and victim in this weekend’s vote, İmamoğlu has cast the new election as a battle for the future of Turkish democracy. […]


    “İmamoğlu represents everything we have missed for a long time,” said a civil society activist, who asked not to be named.

    “He is smart, has a great track record and is hopefully going to be the candidate against Erdoğan in 2023.”

  4. jrkrideau says

    @ 2 blf
    I think I would dispute your Modern Turkey is also decidedly secular.

    Some parts of Turkey, obviously Istambul, are decidedly secular but there appears to be large sections of the country that are quite conservative and religious. Those are the areas whence Erdoğan draws much of his support.

    I wonder how much the loss of Istambul has affected the overall base for the AKP. The AKP loss Istambul at the local level does not necessarily mean a loss of support at the national level but it does not auger well.

    The collapsing economy has to be hurting Erdoğan immensely. I can just see an unemployed Turk pointing at Erdoğan’s modest little thousand–room palace in Ankara and doing a bit of muttering.

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