Istanbul has elected a new mayor in a rerun that is widely being seen as a referendum on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his grip on Turkey after the first mayoral elections were annulled.
Opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu, of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), won the race by a slim margin in March. It was the first time Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost control of the city in 25 years.
But Imamoglu spent just 18 days in office.
Erdogan and his party argued that irregularities had marred the voting process. The Supreme Election Council, Turkey’s election authority, nullified the results in May.
The results of the rerun election set Istanbul squarely in the opposition’s hands. Imamoglu received about 53% of the votes while Yildirim collected about 45%, according to unofficial results published in the pro-government Daily Sabah. He reportedly won by more than 700,000 votes.
Imamoglu had faced off for a second time with the AKP’s Binali Yildirim. From 2016 to 2018, Yildirim served as Turkey’s last prime minister. He lobbied for his position to be eliminated in a constitutional referendum that expanded Erdogan’s power.
But on Sunday night, he conceded by congratulating Imamoglu. “We’ll try to help out to Imamoğlu in everything he will do to the benefit of Istanbulites,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Erdogan told reporters, “I think voters will make the best decision for Istanbul.”
The rerun election started Sunday morning and closed at 5 p.m. local time. Polls ahead of the vote showed the opposition ahead.
As residents of Istanbul went back to polling stations to cast their votes, Imamoglu could be seen casting a ballot with his wife. Yildirim hoisted his granddaughter up so that she could drop his ballot into a clear box.
In the weeks leading up to the vote, both candidates took on issues including poverty and employment. Turkey’s economy has contracted despite a decade of growth and economists in the spring predicted a long recession for the country.
“[Imamoglu] is already chosen, and we are doing our duty this time again,” Istanbul resident Saba Sumer told NPR’s Peter Kenyon. She said she believed he would emerge victorious once again, but that the ruling party “can do anything they want, at the moment [that’s what] they think.”
Another voter named Yannis Paisios told Kenyon that Erdogan still controls the city. The opposition is trying to change that, he said. It hopes the “ruling AK Party will get the message that they’re doing something in not quite the right way, and change their ways. Perhaps, this time the message will hit home.”
Istanbul is Turkey’s economic stronghold and its most populated city. It is also the place where Erdogan rose to power as mayor in the 1990s.
Seven members of the Supreme Election Council ruled in favor of an election do-over, while four voted against it. According to the Ahval news site, Turkey’s top administrative court has agreed to consider a legal complaint against those seven Council members.