İstanbul Mayoral Election: All You Need to Know About the June 24 Polls

Hülya Karahan

The  repetition of the mayoral election in Istanbul apparently leads to a massive mobilization of voters: Thousands of inhabitants return to the metropolis during the holiday season.

The city of more than 15 million residents is Turkey’s largest, straddling both Europe and Asia. It draws millions of tourists each year and is the country’s commercial and cultural hub.

The sprawling city accounted for 31 percent of Turkey’s GDP in 2017. The Istanbul metropolitan municipality and its subsidiaries had a total budget of $8.8 billion last year.

The municipality, which has been run by the conservative ruling party and its Islamic-oriented predecessor for 25 years, has awarded lucrative contracts to businesses considered to be close to the government and offers huge financial resources and employment opportunities.

In Istanbul Sunday morning has begun the repetition of the mayoral election. On 31 March, Ekrem İmamoğlu, candidate of the center-left CHP party, narrowly won the election against ex-prime minister Binali Yildrim. The ruling AKP party led by President Recep Tayyip Edoğan ordered a repeat of the election for alleged abuses.

Yildrim, former Minister of Transport and Prime Minister, is a long-time confidant of President Erdoğan. For the AKP chairman, there is a lot at stake in the election, as a renewed defeat would have far-reaching consequences. The election is also considered a test of democracy in Turkey. The cancellation had been justified by the fact that some electoral bureau chiefs were not as required state officials. The decision was so controversial that even the head of the Electoral Commission voted against.

The 1.5 million Istanbul Kurds are the tip of the scales. Yildirim had traveled extra to the 1300 kilometers away to mostly Kurdish populated city Diyarbakır, makes there election campaign over gang. “When Atatürk formed the Great Turkish National Assembly in Ankara during the War of Independence, he invited representatives from all over Anatolia, including from Kurdistan,” he said at the local AKP headquarters.

Yildirm used the word Kurdistan and broke a taboo. Opposition politicians would in this case directly assume sympathizing with terrorists. That’s what happened to his rival İmamoğlu, who praised the imprisoned former pro-Kurdish HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş. Meanwhile, Demirtaş retaliated from prison with a recommendation for İmamoğlu.

Much of the money flows into the wrong pockets, says campaigner İmamoglu. He speaks of waste and nepotism in 25 years of Islamic conservative rule in Istanbul. He would end this and spend the money rather for social benefits such as free drinking water or benefits in public transport or more kindergartens.

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