Turkey's Secularists Defeat Erdogan-Backed Islamist Candidate in Istanbul Mayoral Election

Posted: Jun 24, 2019 1:00 PM
Turkey's Secularists Defeat Erdogan-Backed Islamist Candidate in Istanbul Mayoral Election

Source: AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici

Turkish voters elected by a wide margin an opposition candidate as mayor of Istanbul in a rerun election, delivering a forceful rebuke of the Islamist-aligned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which controlled the city’s highest office since 2004.

The newly elected mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, a secularist candidate representing the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), secured 54 percent of the votes, while the defeated AKP candidate Binali Yildirim received 45 percent of votes cast, according to CNBC.

"You have protected our tradition of democracy, dating back a hundred years. Thank you, fellow Istanbul residents,” Imamoglu said at a press conference, adding further that he is “ready to work in harmony” with Erdogan, local news outlet Hurriet Daily News reported.

Imamoglu, the mayoral candidate for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), was previously elected to the same office in March by a razor-thin margin, but the AKP pressured the country’s electoral authorities to toss out the results, triggering the rerun election on Sunday. 

This time, the ruling party did not contest the election results. Erdogan, who was previously mayor of Istanbul between 1994 and 1998, congratulated the victorious Imamoglu in a tweet, according to Politico.

In power first as prime minister and then as president since 2004, Erdogan has gradually shifted Turkey away from its secularist roots toward authoritarian and Islamist politics. The secular opposition’s victory in the cultural and economic capital of Turkey indicates there could be growing opposition to Turkey’s new politics, according to Reuters:

Erdogan has ruled Turkey since 2003, first as prime minister and then as president, becoming the country’s most dominant politician since its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, nearly a century ago.

His AKP has strong support among pious and conservative Turks and its stewardship of Turkey’s economy through a decade and a half of construction-fuelled growth helped Erdogan win more than a dozen national and local elections.

But economic recession and a financial crisis have eroded that support and Erdogan’s ever-tighter control over government has alarmed some voters.