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Turkish opposition unites behind Imamoglu for Istanbul repeat election

Opposition candidates withdraw from June re-run after electoral board cancels March vote following AKP complaints
Supporters of Ekrem Imamoglu take part in a protest against the re-run of Istanbul's mayoral election in Istanbul, on 6 May (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Several candidates who stood in Istanbul's mayoral election in March have withdrawn from next month's re-run in protest after Turkey's High Election Board (YSK) cancelled the result of the first vote on the grounds of alleged unlawful conduct.

The move came with Turkish opposition parties apparently consolidating behind Ekrem Imamoglu, the candidate for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who won the cancelled vote and has said he will stand again in the repeat contest in late June.

Imamoglu won the March election by just 14,000 votes, shaking the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) decades-long control of Turkey's biggest city, casting extra significance on the move by three other candidates who between them polled about 15,000 votes.

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Zehra Karaoglu of the Turkey Communist Party (TKP), Ozge Akman of the Labourer Movement Party (EHP), and independent Aysel Tekerek said that they would withdraw their bids and support Imamoglu.

Muammer Aydin, who ran as mayoral candidate for the Democratic Left Party (DSP), signalled on Monday on Twitter that he would also pull out.

“The DSP won’t be silent against the unlawful [decisions] taken in the hands of YSK, and will do the necessary [thing] that befalls us. All our people should be sure about this,” he tweeted. Aydin received more than 30,000 votes.

Meanwhile, the Iyi party, which is allied with the CHP, said it had asked the YSK to review its decision.

The AKP's losses in local elections in Istanbul and in the capital, Ankara, among other places, represented the biggest electoral setback for the party since it emerged as Turkey's dominant political force in national elections in 2002.

Beyond its symbolic importance as Turkey's economic and cultural capital, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IBB) is also critical due to its vast resources, including a $7.5bn budget and widespread employment opportunities.

Tarkan tweets support

In another indication that the momentum remains with the opposition, many of Turkey's most famous celebrities expressed support for Imamoglu on social media after he had called on his backers to speak out.

Tarkan, Turkey's most famous singer, tweeted his support. “I couldn’t sleep yesterday night. However the lights in the horizon were brighter than ever. I understand that #everythingwillbeverygood,” he wrote.

Thousands of tweets were sent with the hashtag, “#HerSeyCokGuzelOlacak”, a campaign slogan adopted by Imamoglu and his followers in the March elections. Since Monday night, the hashtag has been trending in Turkey.

Another significant figure to tweet in support of Imamoglu was Defne Samyeli, a former anchorwoman who was close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s family.

“The will of millions of people was ignored by [this] unconvincing, controversial and greatly audacious decision. There is not peace and serenity where the belief in justice has ended," she said

AKP: Re-run good for democracy 

The AKP, which on Tuesday confirmed former prime minister Binali Yildirim as its candidate, said that re-running the election was good for the people and for the stability of the country, and would strengthen democracy.

Addressing the AKP's parliamentary group, Erdogan said the YSK's decision would remove any doubt in people's minds about the election result.

“The vote difference between two candidates was about 23-25,000. Our objections changed the picture and showed that more than 15,000 people’s will was stolen. We had solid proofs for every objection we made,” he said.

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Erdogan also criticised the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TUSIAD) which said in a message that the decision to renew elections was concerning in an economic recession.

“Everyone should know their place. These kinds of statements won’t bring normalisation. On the contrary, they will cause disturbance,” Erdogan said.

The YSK said it had ordered a re-run after assessing claims that some officials running several polling stations in Istanbul were not public servants.

Under Turkish law, polling stations must be staffed by public servants whose job is to ensure that the election runs smoothly. The AKP had previously alleged that several polling station officials were private-sector employees.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the CHP, in a furious speech in the Turkish parliament, denounced the judges of the YSK as "gang members" who were working in the interests of the Turkish government.

“You are guilty before history. How are you going to look at the faces of your children? But I trust the nation. They will go to the polls on 23 June and will re-elect Imamoglu once again. He isn’t a CHP candidate anymore. He is the candidate that belongs to 16 million people in Istanbul,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Turkish lira continued to slide down against the US dollar on Tuesday. Uncertainty about the election result has seen the currency lose about three percent of its value since the beginning of May.

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