Istanbul residents ready for rerun of mayoral vote

Turks in Istanbul will vote for the second time on June 23 after Supreme Election Board's decision to rerun polls.

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    'Everything will be great' has become a slogan for Imamoglu and his supporters, online and on Istanbul's streets [AFP]
    'Everything will be great' has become a slogan for Imamoglu and his supporters, online and on Istanbul's streets [AFP]

    Istanbul, Turkey - Shortly before nightfall on the first day of Ramadan, before the evening call to prayer signified an end to the day's fast, another important message was shared by the Supreme Election Board: the results from the city's March mayoral election would be annulled and the opposition CHP mayor would cede his post to a temporary caretaker.

    Now, Istanbul is set to hold a mayoral vote again on June 23 - a controversial decision that has divided the metropolis' residents. 

    "I think it's absurd," said Aygul Ozkaragoz, a retired 70-year-old economist at Yeditepe University, who voted for the opposition.

    Yet the Istanbul-born resident plans to head to the polls again in a contest that will once more pit former Justice and Development (AK) Party Prime Minister Binali Yildirim against municipal head Ekrem Imamoglu. 

    "Deep in my heart, I want the election redone," said Mine Atli, an English and Turkish teacher who cast her ballot for Yildirim. She said she was shocked by March's results, and suspects Yildirim won the vote.

    Complicating matters is that the government awarded Imamoglu the certificate to become mayor just weeks ago. On that day, he addressed energized supporters by microphone while standing atop of a van outside the city's municipal offices. His unexpected win by a small margin of votes sparked excitement among some, including young residents of Istanbul, who have never known municipal rule by the opposition CHP. 

    "The way he talks, he's not dividing people," said Aykut Aslan, a 27-year-old consultant who lives in Besiktas. "He's trying to bring everyone together. It's not about right wing, left wing, AKP, CHP. It doesn't matter. It's about Turkey." 

    'Everything will be great'

    Imamoglu has projected an upbeat image since Monday's announcement, sharing pictures of his family's iftar dinner that night, and appearing on the pro-opposition Fox channel the next day.

    A sign in Istanbul's Besiktas neighbourhood congratulating Ekrem Imamoglu on winning the mayoral election [Jeffrey Bishku-Aykul/Al Jazeera]

    "Her sey cok guzel olacak" (Everything will be great) has become a slogan for Imamoglu and his supporters, online and on Istanbul's streets. 

    There is even some chatter about a possible presidential run in 2023. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan became mayor of Istanbul in 1994, building his base in the megacity before venturing into national politics.

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    But where Imamoglu supporters see a hero standing firm against a ruling party that wants control of Istanbul, AK Party supporters see a razor-thin victory worth questioning.

    Ersin Aydeniz is the 38-year-old CEO of E7 Group, an Istanbul-based company with investments in construction, energy and manufacturing.

    Last year, he also sought the nomination to become an AK Party candidate in his neighbourhood of Bakirkoy. He is sceptical of Imamoglu's winning margin, which went down from around 30,000 votes to more than 13,000 after a recount.

    "That means it was able to fall 17,000 votes," he said. "There are 300,000 invalid votes. If even 10 percent of them were counted wrong, that makes 30,000 votes."

    A banner in Istanbul's Besiktas neighbourhood depicting opposition CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu [Jeffrey Bishku-Aykul/Al Jazeera] 

    Aydeniz said the most appropriate course of action is to hold a re-vote. But it also means invalidating Imamoglu's mayoral certificate and the votes of his more than four million supporters. 

    Atli said she believes the election board (YSK) could have handled the situation better. 

    "YSK is one of the most important and trustable institutions in the country. So, now, I think there's a shadow on it," Atli said. "My concern is how the politics will run this new process.

    "Now, they are not nominees, one of them [is] the ex-mayor, and the other is still a nominee. That's the problem for me," she added. 

    'Anti-democratic'

    For some Istanbul residents, Erdogan's call for another election and the YSK's subsequent decision in favour of one shows how the integrity of Turkey's democracy and institutions are compromised.

    The AK Party and its ruling coalition partner, the nationalist MHP, have claimed irregularities in various neighbourhoods and 32 investigations were launched just last week. Among the areas in question was Kadikoy, a staunch opposition stronghold.

    Neighbourhood resident Cem Oguz Kar is a 27-year-old who backs the HDP and supports a boycott by the opposition of the June 23 poll. 

    He said he believes participating is an acceptance of unjust policies. "I think every opposition voter feels that this decision is anti-democratic," he said.

    Still, he plans to vote for Imamoglu, if the HDP backs him again. "I think all parties besides AKP and MHP should boycott the elections," he said. "It is the only solution for democracy in Turkey, I think."

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    Despite the dawn of yet another campaign season following three elections in the past three years, interest in Istanbul's mayoral race shows no signs of waning. Signs for candidates may not yet be up everywhere, but Aykut Aslan expects there could be major rallies.

    "There will be maybe millions going to [show] support for each side. So the main fear for myself is [there] could be some attacks," Aslan said. 

    Ozkaragoz, meanwhile, expects things to remain calm, and for disputes to remain private without spilling out onto the streets. Turkish history, according to her, is marked by ebbs and flows in democracy, and this is an ebb. 

    "I think we do have democracy - maybe not to the extent of some other countries," said Ozkaragoz. "But we still have rudimentary democracy in our veins, too. I think so. And I think it will be for the benefit of everybody, including the ruling party, if there's [a change in leadership]." 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News