July 15, 2019
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Revote in Istanbul rebukes Erdogan

By David Gauthier-Villars

Istanbul, Jun 24 (efe-epa).- An opposition candidate has won a repeat ballot for Istanbul mayor, ending President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's quarter-century grip on the megalopolis and exposing troubles at his long-dominant ruling party, according to a Dow Jones Newswires report made available to EFE on Monday.

The opposition party's candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, beat a rival from Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, 54 percent to 45 percent, according to a tally of 99 percent of votes cast released by Turkish state news agency Anadolu.

"It's a new beginning," Imamoglu said in a victory speech.

The AKP candidate, Binali Yildirim, conceded defeat. "I congratulate him and wish him success," he said in a brief televised address.

Imamoglu had defeated the AKP candidate in the initial March municipal ballot, but electoral authorities had voided the results after Erdogan complained of fraud and called for a do-over.

Sunday's defeat, adding to the loss of the capital, Ankara, in the March elections, is a stinging setback for Erdogan, who led numerous rallies in support of his AKP protégé ahead of the repeat election. It comes at a delicate time for the president, who is straining to repair a recession-hit Turkish economy and is scheduled to meet President Trump at the end of the week in a bid to defuse a diplomatic standoff with the United States.

Erdogan's presidential mandate spans 2023 and the AKP, together with a nationalist ally, commands a majority at the National Assembly. But the defeat in Istanbul highlights how popular support for the AKP has dropped steadily as Turkey has been gripped by economic pain since the middle of last year. A long period of breakneck growth, largely fueled by large amounts of foreign-currency debt, came to a shuddering halt, with the country entering recession over the winter.

The Turkish lira is down sharply, sparking a surge in inflation, Dow Jones added in a report made available to EFE.

Resentment is also growing over Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian style of leadership after a failed coup attempt in 2016, marked by mass purges and sweeping crackdowns against businessmen, journalists and human-rights activists.

"The Turkish electorate is distancing itself from the ruling party," said Sinan Ulgen, director of Istanbul-based think tank Edam. "There is a powerful risk for the AKP that they may end up losing their hegemonic role in Turkish politics."

While celebrating Imamoglu's victory, members of his Republican People's Party, or CHP, cautioned that Erdogan had a track record of canceling the results of elections when he doesn't like the outcome. Erdogan canceled a legislative vote in 2015 in which the AKP had failed to garner a majority. In recent months, his administration has annulled scores of municipal votes across Turkey, replacing opposition mayors by government-appointed caretakers.

Late Sunday, however, Erdogan posted a message on his Twitter account in which he congratulated Imamoglu.

The drop in support for the ruling party was palpable in Uskudar, a district nestled on the Asian side of Istanbul where Erdogan has his personal residence and historical AKP stronghold.

Mehmet Yilmaz on Saturday praised the AKP for modernizing Istanbul, saying he had backed the party until the March municipal election. But the 73-year-old retiree said he would cast his vote for Imamoglu in the hope the social-democrat politician would put an end to endemic corruption.

"They have built roads and bridges, but they gave construction tenders to their friends," he says, referring to the AKP. "There is too much squandering."

On Sunday, Imamoglu garnered 54.1 percent of the votes in Uskudar, according to the preliminary results, up from 48.4 percent in the initial March ballot.

The victory of Imamoglu thrusts a little-known opposition politician into one of Turkey's most powerful and prestigious elected seats - a launchpad Erdogan used when he ran the city from 1994 to 1998.

The 49-year-old Imamoglu, who hails from the Black Sea town of Trabzon, ran a small restaurant and worked in the construction sector before cutting his political teeth in Istanbul, joining a local section of the CHP in 2008. In 2014, he won the mayoral race in the Istanbul district of Beylikduzu, earning praise from local residents for turning a no-man's-land into a green park - a rare feature in this city's densely urbanized landscape.

As Istanbul mayor, Imamoglu has pledged to conduct a thorough review of municipal finances, saying eliminating extravagant projects would help increase social welfare spending. He has said he would aim to work with the administration of Erdogan in a constructive way, but would stand his ground if it is necessary.

Erdogan has said that even if Imamoglu won the mayoral race, the AKP would still have a say in important decisions because it controls the city council, which approves the annual budget.

"As a mayor, he will be like a piece of shop-window decoration," Erdogan said last week.

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