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  • Ekrem Imamoglu, mayoral candidate of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), accompanied by his wife Dilek, casts his ballot at a polling station in Istanbul, Turkey, June 23, 2019.

    Ekrem Imamoglu, mayoral candidate of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), accompanied by his wife Dilek, casts his ballot at a polling station in Istanbul, Turkey, June 23, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 23 June 2019

“If İmamoğlu wins again, there’s going to be a chain of serious changes in Turkish politics.”

Millions of Istanbul residents voted Sunday in a re-run of a mayoral election that has become a referendum on President Tayyip Erdogan’s policies.

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In the initial March 31 vote, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu secured a narrow victory over the candidate of President Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey’s largest city, after more than two decades of the ruling party controlling the city. 

However, after weeks of AKP appeals, Turkey’s High Election Board in May annulled the vote citing irregularities. 

Polling stations across Istanbul opened at 8 a.m. local time, with 10.56 million people registered to vote in a city which makes up nearly a fifth of Turkey’s 82 million population. Voting ends at 5 p.m. local time. Results will be announced in the evening.

Real estate agent Bayram, 60, said he voted for the AKP’s candidate, former prime minister Binali Yildirim, as he believed foreign powers the United States, Europe, and Israel supported the opposition.

“All of these will want a piece from Istanbul and then there will be chaos. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. All these foreign powers don’t like Erdogan, so he is my friend,” he said after voting in Kagithane district, an AKP stronghold.

Meanwhile, supporters of the opposition have been critical of the decision to cancel the elections, saying that the electoral council made it based on political reasoning.

“It is really ridiculous that the election is being re-run. It was an election won fair and square,” said Asim Solak, 50, who said he was voting for the opposition candidate in the CHP stronghold of Tesvikiye. “It is clear who canceled the election. We hope this election re-run will be a big lesson for them,” he said.

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Erdogan has repeatedly declared that “whoever wins Istanbul wins Turkey.” Istanbul, the country's biggest city, is key for the president because there it was where his political career started by being the mayor of Istanbul between 1994 -1998. Losing Istanbul for the ruling party, which has been in power since 2001, would have a significant impact on the AKP's standing in the country's political sphere.

“If İmamoğlu wins again, there’s going to be a chain of serious changes in Turkish politics,” journalist and writer Murat Yetkin said. “It will be interpreted as the beginning of a decline for AKP and for Erdogan as well,” he added noting that the president himself had called the local elections “a matter of survival”.

The party had already lost control of the two other biggest cities: the capital Ankara, and Izmir to the secular CHP. Izmir has always supported CHP and this year Ankara and Istanbul appeared to follow suit gaining more votes than their rival AKP candidates.

The opposition parties accuse Erdogan of becoming authoritarian and blame the countries waning economy, increasing inflation and unemployment rate on the president which he had denied.

For Erdogan, the country’s problems are due to an increasingly hostile Washington which disproves of Turkey’s shift towards the east.

Turkey has traditionally been a U.S. ally as part of the NATO and former governments have always maintained a closer relationship to the United States and Europe while being disconnected from its neighbors to the east.

However, over Erdogan's two decades in power, the country started to increase its presence in the Middle East and the east while also implementing policies at home for the more religious and poorer sector of society who had been traditionally ignored by the country's political elite.

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