Why are these elections so important for Turkey? Who are the main contenders and what are the predictions?" />

Istanbul heads to repeat vote in tense mayoral elections on 23 June

Why are these elections so important for Turkey? Who are the main contenders and what are the predictions?

Why are these elections so important for Turkey? Who are the main contenders and what are the predictions?

Istanbul goes to a repeat round of the mayoral elections on 23 June, as tension between opponents increases.

The results of the previous elections on March 31, won by opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu, were contested by the pro-government candidate.

Imamoglu then called the decision to hold a repeat round of the elections a “betrayal” and said that “democracy in Turkey has suffered a heavy blow”.

How the opposition won the mayorship of Istanbul, and then lost it

Ekrem Imamoglu’s wife Dilek. 16 June 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

The vote count from the previous elections lasted more than two weeks.

Candidate from the opposition Republican People’s Party, Ekrem Imamoglu, and the candidate from the ruling Justice and Development Party, Binali Yildirim, came to the finish line with similar results: Imamoglu took 48.80 per cent of the votes, while Yildirim took 48.55 per cent.

Most experts agree that obtaining the post of mayor of Istanbul is extremely important for the ruling party.

Local media recall that the first major success in the political life of the current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was his election as head of the Istanbul municipality in 1994.

Since then, for 25 years, the mayor of Istanbul has been headed only by candidates from the ruling party or its allies.

The initial victory of an opposition candidate as mayor meant that the population of Istanbul ended the 25-year hegemony of the ruling Justice and Development Party.

However, Imamoglu was able to lead Istanbul for only 19 days. The suit of the ruling party was accepted for consideration by the Central Election Commission, and a repeat election was scheduled for June 23.

Criticisms of the two parties

The same two candidates will run off against one another: former prime minister Binali Yildirim from the ruling party and Ekrem Imamoglu from the opposition.

Imamoglu mainly criticizes the failures of the ruling party in the management of the city.

However, the ruling party has chosen Imamoglu himself as the target of criticism.

In a live debate, the opposition candidate announced the loss of 753 million lira [$130 million] from the budget of the Istanbul City Hall during the period when it was led by a representative of the ruling party.

His opponent first said this was a lie. But a report released by the State Statistics Committee was presented to him, Yildirim was apparently confused and declined to answer.

The ruling party has tried to pick away at Imamoglu’s character, bringing up a story about Ekrem Imamoglu and how he was not allowed into the VIP lounge at an airport, but where he insisted and allegedly insulted the head of the Orda province [where he was located].

“Such a person is not worthy of being the mayor of Istanbul,” said candidate Binali Yildirim and urged Imamoglu to apologize.

At the same time, the ruling party has attracted the attention of the Istanbul public to their achievements over their 25 years of city leadership. For example, the city now has many more “green zones”: in 1994 there was just 10 million square meters, while by 2018 this number had grown to 60 million square meters.

Also, in comparison with the same year 1994, the number of buses and the expanse of the Istanbul metro has significantly increased.

Binali Yıldır with his wife Semiha and his daughter Busra. Istanbul, June 16, 2019. REUTERS / Murad Sezer

Public opinion

Public debate has not died down since the first round of elections.

An uproar was caused when well-known journalist Ugur Dundar wrote on his Twitter page: “Imamoglu came to the ‘Big Meeting’ [television debates] as a leader, and he remained the leader there.”

Another well-known journalist, Ismail Saymaz, who tweeted, disagreed with him:

“In my opinion, Imamoglu completed the debate only a tiny step ahead. If you ask who won, I will answer – the whole country.”

In March and April, during the previous round of mayoral elections, residents of Istanbul reacted very actively to the post-electoral chaos.

For example, on April 13, at a football match between the Besiktas and Bashakshekhir teams, the choir fans demanded that the municipality’s mandate be given to opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu.

Many in Istanbul now say that they are angry with the decision to hold repeat elections.

The economy is done for – people cannot afford to buy a kilogram of tomatoes. Instead of thinking about the economy, they are busy with elections”, is a typical answer we received during a street poll.

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