Istanbul election: Opposition candidate beats Erdogan’s ruling party in stinging defeat for government

President congratulates victor as his party's candidate concedes defeat in a re-run of the vote

Thousands gather in Istanbul to celebrate Ekrem Imamoglu mayoral election victory

An opposition candidate has won a re-run of the Istanbul mayoral election – dealing a stinging blow to the ruling party of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ekrem Imamoglu cemented his status as the Turkish opposition leader when he won the vote with an estimated 53.6 per cent. The candidate for the ruling versus Justice and Development Party, Binali Yildirim, took 45.4 per cent of the vote, with nearly 95 per cent of the city’s ballots counted, Turkish broadcasters said.

“The era of waste, arrogance, marginalisation and prejudice is over in Istanbul,” said Mr Imamoglu. “The era of brotherhood and love has begun.”

The result vastly extends Mr Imamoglu’s mandate after he eked out a victory over Mr Yildirim in 31 March elections that were cancelled at the demand of the ruling party.

The high election board, which oversees all Turkish votes and is said to be stacked with Erdogan loyalists, must still confirm the results. Mr Erdogan or his allies could still attempt to find a legal or parliamentary manoeuver to thwart Mr Imamoglu’s ascent.

Mr Imamoglu said the election result “sent a message” to the entire country. “Regardless of background or lifestyle, we have shown that love beats all, even prejudice. Now is the time for togetherness,” he said.

He called on Mr Erdogan “to cooperate” with him, and publicly asked to visit the president “as soon as possible”.

Mr Yildirim conceded defeat and said: “I congratulate him and wish him success. We will work to help him in all kinds of work that will benefit Istanbul residents.”

The crowd at Mr Imamoglu’s campaign headquarters went wild at Mr Yildirim’s concession speech, chanting the candidate’s trademark slogan, “Everything will be beautiful.”

Mr Erdogan recently described Mr Imamoglu as akin to Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who deposed Egypt’s elected president, Mohamed Morsi. Mr Morsi was jailed and died last week while in a Cairo courtroom.

But Mr Erdogan struck a conciliatory tone on Sunday evening. “The national will has once again manifested today,” he said in a tweet. “I congratulate Ekrem Imamoglu who won the election, according to unofficial results.”

Mr Imamoglu narrowly won office as mayor of Turkey’s largest city on 31 March and served for 18 days, but his narrow margin prompted the AKP to demand a re-run, citing what it said were voting irregularities.

Turkey’s electoral board then annulled the results after weeks of partial recounts.

Some speculate that the setback for Mr Erdogan, who campaigned hard in Istanbul, could also trigger a national election earlier than the one scheduled for 2023.

Campaign season begins in Istanbul ahead of 23 June mayoral vote

The election results come at a time of deep economic trouble for Turkey.

The United States, its Nato ally, has threatened sanctions if Mr Erdogan goes ahead with plans to install Russian missile defences.

The uncertainty over the fate of Istanbul, Turkey’s business hub, and potential delays in broader economic reforms, has kept financial markets on edge.

The Turkish lira tumbled after the decision to annul the March vote and is down nearly 10 per cent this year in part due to election jitters.

Burcu Karakas contributed to this report

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