AKP seeks to win over Kurds and alienated supporters in Istanbul

But opinion polls indicate another win for opposition victory in Turkey's largest city

Supporters of the ruling AK Party (AKP) wait for the arrival of their mayoral candidate Binali Yildirim during an election rally in Istanbul, Turkey, June 21, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
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Turkey’s ruling party raised the tempo of its campaigning in the final days before Sunday's re-run of the Istanbul mayoral election, seeking to prevent a repeat of its shock loss in the first vote.

Opinion polls indicate that Ekrem Imamoglu of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) will win again, with one survey putting him nine percentage points ahead of Binali Yildirim of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and he is also widely considered to have won a televised debate against his main rival last Sunday.

But with only a narrow margin separating Mr Imamoglu and Mr Yildirim in the March 31 election, both sides have been manoeuvring to pick up vital votes in the past week.

The AKP has been targeting the Kurdish vote, which was seen as instrumental to the opposition's victory. Turkey's main pro-Kurdish party did not field candidates in the major cities in the west of the country during the nationwide local election in March, and called for its supporters to back the opposition.

Mr Yidirim visited Diyarbakir, the largest city in the Kurdish-majority south-east, during the Eid holiday earlier this month. Authorities allowed lawyers and family members to visit Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, for the first time in years. Ocalan, who founded the Kurdish separatist group, issued a call this week for Kurds to remain "neutral" in the election.  

"CHP success in the last election was because of the Kurds," said student Ferhad Aydogan, 23, whose family is originally from the south-eastern city of Sirnak. "Many Kurds like Imamoglu because he's not like the old CHP, but some think he has not recognised the part we played in helping him beat the AKP."

At the same time President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s trademark fiery rhetoric, which took a back seat in the early part of Mr Yildirim's campaign, has made a return even though his aggressive speeches seemed to alienate many AKP voters in the earlier election. This week he accused Mr Imamoglu of lying and supporting the group said to be behind a 2016 coup attempt.

Pinar Bulbul, 37, said she had not voted in the March poll despite previously supporting the AKP. “I think all the talk of the local elections being so important for the country’s survival was not correct,” she said, referring to Mr Erdogan’s portrayal of the race.

“The economy is very bad and the government should focus on this rather than concentrating on which party runs the city.”