Opposition Victory in Istanbul Challenges Turkish President's Authority

Opposition Victory in Istanbul Challenges Turkish President's Authority

Turkey's opposition revelled Monday in a landslide win in Istanbul's re-run mayoral vote - a blow for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that even some pro-government media called a victory for democracy. Major thoroughfares were packed with cars honking their horns, passengers hanging out of windows and waving Turkish flags through sunroofs.

Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu is likely to emerge as a key rival to President Erdoğan in the next round of elections, which are now scheduled for 2023.

The landslide win electrified the secular party that has been spent almost two decades in lacklustre opposition as Erdogan's strengthened his hold on power.

Imamoglu faced the juggernaut of Erdogan´s ruling AKP party, which has been in power in Turkey since 2002 and remains the most popular political force nationwide.

It was a symbolic loss for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in more ways than one.

The tone was set by Mr Erdogan who, two minutes after congratulating Mr Imamoglu on Sunday night, sent a tweet highlighting foreign engagements such as the G-20 summit at the end of the month, a forthcoming visit to China and a meeting of leaders from southern Europe.

The country's largest city has always been governed by Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

Erdogan has indeed already played down the importance of the re-run, saying last week that the choice of mayor was "only a change in the shop window" since the AKP controls nearly two-thirds of the city's districts. The ruling party still controls 25 of Istanbul's 39 districts and a majority in the municipal assembly. We (the opposition) got 800,000 more votes.

He said the outcome of the election is not a "victory", but a "new beginning" for the city.

Analysts say the result would increase pressure on Erdogan's government, which is grappling with a shaky economy and multiple global crises.

Newly elected Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu of Republican People's Party (CHP) greets his supporters in Istanbul, Turkey, 2019.

"He had a very inclusive narrative, very opposite to this populist, fearmongering, and divisive or polarising narrative that the AKP Government and their allies ... ran against him", Tezcan Gumus, a lecturer in Turkish politics at the University of Melbourne, said. Imamoglu, in his victory speech, said he was willing to work with Erdogan and would like to meet with him. "This was realized not only by those who voted for me, but al our citizens who helped us carry this election with great maturity and calm". While Erdogan himself has said in the past "whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey", this defeat is the first chink in his reign as he has ruled the country since 2003. The president has previously signalled an unwillingness to do so.

Winning Istanbul was not just about prestige - the city's GDP accounts for more than 30 per cent of the country's economy. "The (opposition) was a house that was united".

"This re-run [election] was one to put an end to the dictatorship", Gulcan Demirkaya, a 48-year-old housewife from an AKP-leaning district, told Reuters.

The loss, he argued, also has global implications.

Imamoglu's "massive victory is a lesson in democracy: people want their rights respected", tweeted the former European Union ambassador to Turkey Marc Pierini, now with the Carnegie Europe think tank.

Bulut Emiroglu and Ayse Wieting in Istanbul contributed.

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