Istanbul elections deliver second clear blow to Erdogan

Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AKP party suffered a loss in a rerun of elections held in March.

By World Israel News Staff and AP

“Thank you, Istanbul,” Istanbul’s new mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, 49, said to tens of thousands who gathered to mark his victory after unofficial results showed he won a clear majority of the vote. It is the second time he beat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party to lead Turkey’s largest city.

Imamoglu had narrowly won an earlier mayoral election on March 31, but Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, AKP, which has governed Turkey since 2002, challenged the vote over alleged irregularities.

Imamoglu spent 18 days in office before Turkey’s electoral board annulled the results after weeks of partial recounts.

That won’t be the case this time. The governing party’s candidate, former Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, conceded moments after returns showed him trailing well behind Imamoglu, 54% to 45%. Imamoglu increased his lead from a March mayoral election by hundreds of thousands of votes.

Erdogan congratulated Imamoglu in a tweet. Analysts noted that the president, who is grappling with an economic downturn and several international crises, could limit the mayor’s power or undermine Imamoglu’s authority in other ways.

Blow to Erdogan

Erdogan campaigned hard for Yildirim in Istanbul, where the president started his political career as mayor in 1994. Lisel Hintz, an assistant international relations professor at Johns Hopkins University SAIS, said Imamoglu withstood a divisive campaign and prevailed with a positive message.

The significance of his win “cannot be understated,” Hintz said.

Jubilant supporters chanted “Mayor again! Mayor again!” Others hung out of cars, blaring horns and waving red-and-white Turkish flags.

“You have protected the reputation of democracy in Turkey with the whole world watching,” Imamoglu, his voice hoarse after weeks of campaigning, told supporters.

The economy was the key issue. AKP also lost control of the capital city of Ankara in Turkey’s March local elections, which were held as the country battled high inflation and two credit rating downgrades in the past year.

Melahat Ugen said she switched her vote to the opposition because she could not afford to cover basic expenses.

“I’ve certainly never voted left before,” she said. “But I’m 62, and a bag of onions costs too much. Everything is imported and we can’t afford it.”

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund, argued that the loss of Istanbul is likely to fuel speculation of divisions within the ruling party and among its supporters.

“It’s now clear that a sizable portion of the AKP voters is seriously dissatisfied by policies of the AKP,” he said. “The (opposition) was a house that was united. The AKP house looked like one that was already divided.”

He argued Erdogan is already facing an “a perfect storm” this summer. Erdogan was already at odds with Western allies over Turkey’s plans to buy the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system and its challenge of EU-member Cyprus over natural gas drilling rights.

Erdogan has picked fights with the U.S., Israel and the E.U.