ANKARA – The candidate for Turkey’s main opposition party, Ekrem Imamoglu, proclaimed himself on Monday the victor in the race for mayor of Istanbul – the country’s largest city – in the recent local elections which, if confirmed, would constitute a significant setback for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party, which has held power in the sprawling metropolis for the past 25 years.
Imamoglu, who headed the candidacy of the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP), told press that – according to his party’s own provisional ballot counts – he had defeated his main rival, Binali Yildirim, of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Erdogan.
“I know that we’ve won in Istanbul, it’s very clear,” he said in a press conference.
Imamoglu said that while the remaining votes had yet to be added to his outfit’s internal data, he had so far obtained at least 26,558 more votes than Yildirim.
He also called on the country’s state news agency, Anadolu, to “fulfill its democratic duty and release updated results” after the agency published figures overnight that showed Imamoglu losing by 0.05 percent with 98 percent of the ballots counted.
Yildirim, however, had earlier claimed that he was the winner of the election.
“We won the elections in Istanbul,” the AKP candidate – who served as prime minister between 2016-2018 and is a former speaker of the Grand National Assembly – said, according to Anadolu. “We thank the people of Istanbul for handing in the duty to us.”
In addition, the provincial head of the AKP in Istanbul claimed that Yildirim had won by a margin of around 4,000 votes.
Imamoglu urged Yildirim not to be part of what he described as “dirty manipulation” and called on Erdogan to assist in declaring a final result in a clean way in order to “help democracy.”
According to Turkey’s highest election authority, the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK), it was too early to announce final results, as 0.26 percent of ballots had yet to be counted.
The YSK’s president, Said Güven, was quoted by the daily Cumhuriyet as saying that Imamoglu led Yildirim by 27,889 votes with 99.74 percent of ballots counted.
The AKP could still ask for a formal recount, as the YSK voided some 300,000 ballots it deemed invalid.
At an election night rally held on Sunday night in the capital, Ankara, Erdogan appeared to concede that his party had lost several cities, including Istanbul, although he said that the AKP was still Turkey’s “number one” party.
“In Istanbul, most of the districts we either won or are neck-and-neck. This means that even if our people lost the mayorship, the districts were for the AKP,” Erdogan told his supporters.
The president’s communication director, Fahrettin Altun, said in a Twitter post on Monday that Erdogan’s remarks did not contradict the earlier victory declaration made by Yildirim.
Faced with an economic downturn prompted by the collapse of the Turkish lira, as well as a slump in public opinion polls, Erdogan said that the AKP’s poor showing in the elections resulted from a failure to properly explain themselves and win over the hearts of the people, adding that the party would work harder in the future to seduce those voters.
The conservative leader, who ascended to the presidency in 2014, first rose to political prominence while serving as mayor of Istanbul between 1994-1998.
The AKP also lost its stranglehold on Ankara to the CHP for the first time since 1994, with the social democrat Mansur Yavas defeating the incumbent, Mustafa Tuna.
Losing the country’s two biggest cities would represent a severe blow to the AKP, which has unquestionably been the dominating party in Turkish politics for the past decade.
The local elections saw two main blocs competing against each other: the center-left alliance between the CHP and the moderate liberal-nationalist Iyi (“Good”) Party and the right-wing alliance between the AKP and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
While AKP and MHP obtained 53.66 percent of the vote in the 2018 presidential election, they dropped to 51.67 percent in Sunday’s mayoral races.
CHP and the Iyi Party, meanwhile, saw a considerable rise from a share of 33.94 of the vote in 2018 to 37.53 percent on Sunday.