Istanbul election rerun: residents vote in key test for President Erdogan's AKP

Vote rerun gets under way with high stakes for Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

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Voters began arriving at more than 31,000 polling stations across Istanbul on Sunday in the re-run for the city’s mayoral election.

In Besiktas, a secular-leaning neighbourhood on the European side of the Bosphorus, some of the 10.56 million people eligible to cast a ballot filed into Buyuk Esma Sultan Middle School.

“This time I hope our votes are allowed to count,” said 53-year-old Esra Koc, referring to the controversial cancellation of the March 31 mayoral poll. “No matter what the result, they cannot just take away the democratic rights of Istanbul’s people.”

Across Istanbul, campaign posters that had decorated the city were taken down on Saturday in accordance with electoral law but stencilled graffiti, much of it in support of opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu, who won the earlier election by a slender margin, remained in place.

Many people returned to the city from holidays on the coast to vote for a second time.

“We came from Didim yesterday to vote for Brother Ekrem,” said Deniz Kasapoglu, 39. “It was a long car journey but it will be worth it if he wins. So far, everything has been peaceful and I hope it will continue in this way.”

Binali Yildirim, right, mayoral candidate for Istanbul from Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, AKP, and his wife Semiha, left, pose for the photographers as their granddaughter casts his grandfather's ballot at a polling station in Istanbul, Sunday, June 23, 2019. Voters in Istanbul returned to the polls Sunday for a re-run mayoral election ordered up by authorities after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his political allies lost control of Turkey's largest city for the first time in 25 years. (Ibrahim Mase/DHA via AP)
Binali Yildirim, right, mayoral candidate from Turkey's ruling AKP, and his wife Semiha, left, pose for photographers as their granddaughter casts their vote at a polling station in Istanbul. AP

Binal Yildirim, the ruling party’s candidate, cast his vote alongside his wife Semiha at the Emlak Konut Cemil Primary and Middle School in Tuzla, on the city’s Asian side. “Today is the time to leave resentment aside,” he told reporters.

Mr Imamoglu was greeted by cheering crowds as he arrived at Haldun Taner Primary School in Beylikduzu to cast his vote.

Accompanied by his wife Dilek and son Semih, he posed for news photographers.

“May our city and nation be blessed on this occasion. At the end of the day everything will be fine,” he said in a reference to his campaign slogan.

epa07667651 Republican People's Party 'CHP' candidate for Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu arrives to cast his vote in Istanbul mayor election re-run in Istanbul, Turkey, 23 June 2019. Some 10,5 million people will vote in repeat Istanbul mayor election.  According to media reports, the Turkish Electoral Commission has ordered a repeat of the mayoral election in Istanbul on 23 June, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party had alleged there was 'corruption' behind his party losing.  EPA/SEDAT SUNA
CHP candidate for Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu arrives to cast his vote in Istanbul mayor election re-run in Istanbul, Turkey. EPA

Meanwhile, Mr Erdogan voted at Saffet Cebi Middle School in Uskudar, where he was joined by his daughter Esra and her husband, Finance Minister Berat Albayrak.

“Istanbul voters will make the most appropriate decision for Istanbul,” the president said.

Former prime minister for the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Mr Yildirim lost by around 13,000 votes to Mr Imamoglu of the Republican People's Party (CHP) in nationwide local elections three months ago.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party remained the most popular overall, but an economic slowdown has eroded his support in metropolitan areas.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan casts his ballot at a polling station in Istanbul, Turkey, June 23, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan casts his ballot. Reuters

The shock defeat in Istanbul was particularly painful for Mr Erdogan, who began his political career as mayor of Istanbul, and losing the capital Ankara to the CHP added to the injury.

“Whoever loses Istanbul, loses Turkey," Mr Erdogan is often quoted as saying.

Mr Imamoglu’s mandate was cancelled after just 18 days with the AKP disputing the result. The top election body accepted claims of fraud and called for a re-run of the Istanbul vote.

It did not annul votes for city council seats, where the majority went to Mr Erdogan's party.

Opinion polls indicate that Mr Imamoglu, a former district mayor, will win again, with one survey putting him nine percentage points ahead of Mr Yildirim. He is also widely considered to have won a televised debate against his main rival last Sunday.

Istanbul, which has a population of at least 15 million, has special significance as the country’s economic powerhouse – it accounts for about a third of Turkey’s GDP and the mayor controls a US$8.8 billion (Dh32b) budget.

The kingmakers in the Istanbul vote could be the Kurdish population, who are thought to number around two to four million in the city.