Turkey’s Opposition Gets the Keys to Istanbul

Thursday, 18 April, 2019 - 08:15
Ankara- Said Abdel Razek

Turkish authorities on Wednesday confirmed the opposition's candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, as the mayor of Istanbul, ending more than two weeks of recounts of the March 31 vote demanded by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party. All eyes, however, were turned toward Turkey's top electoral body, which has yet to consider a ruling party request for the vote in Istanbul to be invalidated and for the election to be repeated.

Imamoglu received a certificate confirming his win by a slim margin in Istanbul against the ruling party candidate, former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, hours after a final appeal by the ruling party was rejected.

The final result of the elections gave a wafer-thin majority to the secularist opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) in Turkey's commercial hub, ending 25 years of control by the AK Party (AKP) and its predecessors.

The loss is especially hard for Erdogan who launched his political career in Istanbul as mayor in the 1990s and has triumphed in more than a dozen parliamentary, presidential and local polls since his party came to power in 2002.

The Turkish lira, which has dipped since the election, firmed on Wednesday.

Large crowds of supporters chanting "Mayor Ekrem" gathered outside a courthouse where the 48-year-old former district mayor was given his certificate, as well as outside the municipality, where he formally took over the city hall.

Addressing thousands of flag-waving supporters outside the municipality building, Imamoglu promised to work for all 16 million residents.

"We never gave up, we never gave up on our battle for democracy and rights," he said. "We are aware of our responsibilities and the needs of this city. We will start to serve immediately."

He called on the Supreme Electoral Board to terminate the uncertainty over the election in the city with "sensitivity, and rapidly."

Imamoglu's margin of victory ahead of the AKP candidate and former prime minister Binali Yildirim - prompted several AKP challenges.

In a major upset, Erdogan's party lost control of the capital, Ankara, and the country's financial and cultural hub, Istanbul, where the party had repeatedly contested results.

Citing alleged widespread irregularities, the ruling party on Tuesday filed an "extraordinary objection," asking the Supreme Electoral Board to cancel the Istanbul election. If accepted, elections in Istanbul could be repeated June 2.

The party maintains that the elections were marred by "organized irregularity" and has submitted three suitcases of documents purportedly detailing fraud to the electoral board.

The opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, said the final count gave Imamoglu a 13,700-vote lead over Yildirim. That difference narrowed from the initial 25,000 votes announced before a series of recounts.

The opposition party says the ruling party's objections to the results lack credible evidence. It also points at ruling party statements prior to the elections reassuring the safety of the polls and rejecting the possibility of fraud.

Both Ankara and Istanbul had been held by Erdogan's conservative, religious-based party and its predecessor for 25 years.

Istanbul, with its 15 million residents and strategic location straddling Europe and Asia, made up 31% of Turkey's GDP of $851 billion in 2017 and draws millions of tourists.

The Istanbul metropolitan mayorship and its subsidiaries had a budget of $8.8 billion last year. The municipality has awarded lucrative contracts to businesses close to the government over the years and offers huge financial resources and employment opportunities.

Erdogan's rise to power began as Istanbul mayor in 1994 and he has repeated numerous times in pre-election rallies: "Whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey" and "Whoever loses Istanbul, loses Turkey."

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