Erdogan bloc 'loses Ankara', Imamoglu says he won Istanbul polls

Opposition candidate says Istanbul lead in local polls too big for rival from President Erdogan's AK Party to overtake.

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    Istanbul, Turkey - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development (AK) Party and the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) have both said they narrowly won Istanbul's mayoral elections on Sunday.

    Speaking to reporters in Istanbul, CHP-led Nation Alliance's candidate Ekrem Imamoglu, citing his party's data, said he had won by nearly 28,000 votes. Minutes later, the AK Party provincial head in Istanbul said his bloc's candidate, Binali Yildirim, had won by around 4,000 votes.

    According to data shared by state-run Anadolu Agency, the Nation Alliance stood at 48.65 percent of the vote while Erdogan's People's Alliance was at 47.7 percent in Istanbul, with 99 percent of the votes counted.

    There has been no official statement from Turkey's electoral board over the issue, but its head said on Monday that they were recounting votes that came from some of the polling stations in Istanbul.

    In Ankara, preliminary results showed that Nation Alliance candidate Mansur Yavas had garnered 50.9 percent, with 99 percent of the votes counted. He was followed by Mehmet Ozhaseki, the People's Alliance nominee, in the capital, with 47.2 percent. 

    In the third-largest city, Izmir, the Nation Alliance candidate Mustafa Tunc Soyer was in the lead with 58 percent. Nihat Zeybekci, the candidate for Erdogan's bloc, had 38.5 percent. Ninety-nine percent of the votes have been counted.

    Nationwide, with 99 percent of the provincial votes counted, the People's Alliance, which is comprised of the AK Party and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), had secured 51.7 percent of the votes.

    It was followed by Nation Alliance, a coalition made up by the CHP and the right-wing Good Party, with 37.6 percent.

    Erdogan vows economic reforms

    The polls posed a major challenge for Erdogan, given a backdrop of high inflation and rising unemployment sparked by a major currency crisis last year.

    Speaking at a news conference in Istanbul, Erdogan on Sunday acknowledged that his party had lost control in a number of cities and pledged that he would focus on carrying out economic reforms.

    Erdogan, who was elected last year as the country's first executive president, said the next polls would be held in June 2023, adding that Turkey would carefully implement a "strong economic programme" without compromising on free-market rules. 

    Murat Yetkin, a Turkish political analyst, told Al Jazeera that if "the Erdogan-led AK Party-MHP alliance loses Istanbul [along with Ankara] as well, that means loss of control over five major cities in Turkey."

    "Even if Istanbul, with 11 million voters, is won with a few thousand votes, it will be perceived as a major loss," he said.

    "The results also show that the executive presidential system, which was designed to avoid coalitions, has led to a de facto coalition since the AK Party cannot maintain majority without its symbiotic partnership with MHP."

    Ozgur Dilber, a CHP volunteer, said the results showed that the AK Party's popularity was waning - even if  Erdogan's bloc won in Istanbul.

    "To me, the results are a proof that the number of voters who want change is increasing," he told Al Jazeera outside the party's election monitoring office.

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    Focus on economy, security

    Earlier this month, official statistics showed that in the last two quarters of 2018, the Turkish economy slipped into its first recession in a decade, as inflation and interest rates soared due to the currency meltdown.

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    In February, inflation stood at just under 20 percent, while the Central Bank's main interest rate is currently 24 percent.  

    In the lead-up to Sunday's vote, the People's Alliance sought to link the local polls to internal and external risks threatening the country's security.

    Erdogan has often blamed foreign powers and "speculators" for the currency fluctuations and other economic woes faced by Turkey - a message he repeated this week.

    For its part, the main opposition alliance has focused its campaign on the economic situation and its effect on citizens.

    It also used Turkish flags in their campaigns, rather than party banners, in an apparent bid to attract voters from different backgrounds.

    Arzu Efeoglu contributed to this story from Istanbul

    Follow Umut Uras on Twitter @Um_Uras

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News