Turkish opposition celebrates victory in Istanbul runoff

AP, ISTANBUL, Turkey

Tue, Jun 25, 2019 - Page 1

Turkey’s opposition supporters partied long into the night after their candidate for Istanbul mayor beat a rival backed by long-time Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The streets were transformed into an impromptu caravan of cars honking their horns, with overjoyed passengers leaning out of windows as they cheered and waved Turkish flags.

The party eventually died down and the main question yesterday was what political newcomer Ekrem Imamoglu’s win in Turkey’s biggest city means for Erdogan, and whether this is finally the opposition’s moment for a serious challenge to his rule.

The opposition has spent nearly two decades in the shadows as Erdogan strengthened his hold on power.

Imamoglu narrowly won the vote for Istanbul mayor in March, but the vote was controversially canceled because of procedural irregularities. However, the repeat vote was resoundingly in his favor: Imamoglu garnered 54 percent, beating the government candidate, former Turkish prime minister Binali Yildirim, who tallied 45 percent.

The landslide win fueled speculation that Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) might be facing a real challenge after blitzing his opponents with successive election victories since it first came to power in 2002.

“Erdogan is likely to face not only an emboldened opposition, but also more open dissent within the AKP itself,” said Wolf Piccoli of the New York-based risk analysis firm Teneo Intelligence.

“The victory of Ekrem Imamoglu ... is the most serious setback for Erdogan since his Justice and Development Party first took office in November 2002 and will further fuel the already growing sense amongst both his opponents and many members of his own party that his career is now in irreversible decline,” Piccoli said.

The vote count was yesterday officially ratified, but Yildirim conceded within minutes after the first returns were announced, and tens of thousands of opposition supporters flocked to a square in an Istanbul suburb late on Sunday to greet Imamoglu, chanting his campaign slogan: “Everything will be great!”

Erdogan rose to prominence as the mayor of Istanbul in the mid-1990s and dominated national politics following a 2001 financial crisis that wiped out much of the political establishment. He presided over years of growth, but in the past year the economy has been in-and-out of recession, with the country plagued with high borrowing costs and sovereign downgrades.

The repeat election also heightened public anxiety over the style of government rule that critics describe has become increasingly authoritarian.

Opposition supporter Banu Kirmizigul said she only voted in the repeat election, inspired by Imamoglu’s campaign.

“I am really happy and my faith in this country has been restored,” she said.

“I saw that our people had awakened and I decided to wake up now, and I cast my vote. We [the opposition] got 800,000 more votes. We were successful and I am very happy.”