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.