ISTANBUL—In a blow to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an opposition candidate declared victory in the Istanbul mayor’s race for a second time June 23 after the government-backed candidate conceded defeat in a high-stakes repeat election.
“Thank you, Istanbul,” former businessman and district mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, 49, said in a televised speech. His supporters were jubilant after unofficial results showed he won a clear majority of the vote.
His opponent, former Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, conceded moments after early returns showed him trailing well behind Imamoglu, 54% to 45%.
The outcome means Turkey’s largest city won’t be governed by Erdogan’s party or its predecessor for the first time in 25 years.
Hundreds of opposition supporters erupted in mass celebration outside the headquarters of the Republican People’s Party, which backed Imamoglu, chanting “Mayor again! Mayor again!”
Imamoglu narrowly won a previous mayoral election on March 31, but Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party challenged the vote. Turkey’s electoral board annulled the results after weeks of partial recounts. Imamoglu served 18 days as mayor and was stripped of the post with the board’s order for another election.
“You have protected the reputation of democracy in Turkey with the whole world watching,” Imamoglu, his voice hoarse after weeks of campaigning, told supporters.
Erdogan campaigned for Yildirim in Istanbul, where the president started his political career as mayor in 1994.
Erdogan’s party, AKP, also lost control of the capital city of Ankara in Turkey’s March local elections, which were held as the country faced an economic downturn.
The voided vote in Istanbul had raised concerns domestically and abroad about the state of Turkish democracy and whether Erdogan’s party, which has been in control of the Turkish government since 2002, would accept any electoral loss.
Erdogan’s party still controls 25 of Istanbul’s 39 districts and a majority in the municipal assembly. Imamoglu will have to work with those officeholders to govern Istanbul.
Addressing Erdogan in his speech, Imamoglu said, “I’m ready to work with you” to solve Istanbul’s problems. The president has previously signaled an unwillingness to do so.
Istanbul, a city of 15 million, draws millions of tourists each year and is Turkey’s commercial and cultural hub. Straddling Europe and Asia, Istanbul accounted for 31% of Turkey’s GDP in 2017.
By Zeynep Bilginsoy & Derek Gatopoulos