by Burak Akinci
ANKARA, May 7 — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will lead a new campaign to regain Istanbul’s mayoral election five weeks after his ruling party lost the original vote, but he faces a galvanized opposition who is determined for a new victory.
Turkey’s top electoral body ruled on Monday to scrap after complaints of corruption the result of the March 31 local elections in the country’s biggest city, lost by Erdogan’s candidate, and decided for a fresh Istanbul mayoral contest on June 23.
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), whose candidate Ekrem Imamoglu had narrowly won the first vote, condemned the ruling and vowed to re-win in the June vote.
The party also ruled out on Tuesday a boycott of the fresh elections, suggested by some observers and party members.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had appealed for an election re-run after weeks of debate, controversy and several recounts showed that it had lost control of Istanbul for the first time in 25 years, an unexpected defeat for Erdogan who was the mayor of the populous city in the 1990s.
Footage on social media showed hundreds of protesters took to the streets in different neighborhoods of Istanbul late Monday, chanting slogans against the government and elections authorities while some residents beat pots and pans in sign of protest.
Imamoglu made a strong speech to several thousand supporters after his mandate was annulled, emphasizing that he will not bow down.
“We will never compromise on our principles,” he told the crowd, adding “we will win again and we will fight until the last moment.”
The election board’s decision to renew Istanbul elections has meanwhile dealt a fresh blow to the already vulnerable Turkish currency lira, sending it to the lowest point in seven months. The lira was trading Tuesday afternoon at 6.14 against U.S. dollar.
Erdogan is still the most popular leader of the NATO country, but economic woes affecting Turkey since a currency meltdown last summer have triggered a recession, the first in a decade, eroding some of his support in big cities, where rising inflation and unemployment are a major concern.
In the first reaction after Monday’s much-awaited decision, the Turkish strongman defended the re-run of Istanbul election.
Speaking at a parliamentary meeting of his party, Erdogan said that re-doing the vote was the “best step” for the country.
“We see this decision as the best step that will strengthen our will to solve problems within the framework of democracy and law,” he said.
The Turkish president insisted there was “illegality” in the vote and said a re-run would represent “an important step to strengthen our democracy.”
Istanbul with 15 million residents is particularly crucial for Erdogan as it accounts for a third of Turkey’s economy and is the true economic powerhouse of Turkey, controlling a major chunk of public spending.
Erdogan himself said prior to the elections that “whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey,” indicating that he would not take a defeat in this home city lying down.
“We will knock on everybody’s door until June 23 and win their hearts, especially those who preferred not to vote for us or who abstained for some reason,” said an AKP official to Xinhua, pointing out that his party is as much resolved as the opposition to win Istanbul.
And to win, Erdogan could have more than one card up his sleeve, according to unconfirmed reports moving around in political circles in Ankara.
He may well use the “Kurdish vote” to win as for the first time in years. The jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, was granted access to his lawyers and conveyed a statement to the public on Monday, just hours before the Istanbul elections were annulled.
This has been seen as Erdogan’s intention to recapture Istanbul by pacifying the city’s Kurdish opposition, who, according to surveys, voted largely for Imamoglu.
“People who didn’t vote for the CHP or abstained for some reason will, I think, support Imamoglu like some voters of AKP would do who think that he was unjustly treated,” said political analyst and Sozcu daily columnist Deniz Zeyrek to Xinhua.
“A new defeat would be even more difficult for Erdogan who has created a leader in the person of Imamoglu who can challenge him in the future for the post of president as the opposition seems consolidated,” argued Zeyrek, adding that Imamoglu had reached out beyond his base and this feature would widen his win in the re-run. – XINHUA