Polls have closed in the rerun of Istanbul’s mayoral election after the March 31 vote result was annulled, with initial results expected later on Sunday.
While 32 candidates were listed on ballot papers, including 17 independents, the real race is between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) candidate, Binali Yildirim, and opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem Imamoglu.
In the March 31 vote, Imamoglu won by a razor-thin margin taking 48.8 percent of the vote to Yildirim’s 48.55 percent.
The win for CHP saw power shift in Istanbul from the AK Party for the first time in 17 years, though Imamoglu was Istanbul’s mayor for only 18 days.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the head of the AK Party and former Istanbul mayor himself, had campaigned vigorously for his candidate, and his party protested the outcome.
The AK Party also lost to the opposition in the cities of Ankara and Izmir.
‘Scandal’ for democracy
The Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) declared a rerun would be held after the AK Party filed an “extraordinary objection” to the vote count citing “illegal wrongdoings”.
Award-winning Turkish writer and journalist Mustafa Akyol told Al Jazeera the rerun is a “scandal” for Turkish democracy.
“The government couldn’t present any credible reason for it, other than that it was a very close call, and they thought they could win in a rerun by mobilising more voters,” Akyol said.
“The fact that the Supreme Electoral Council [not all, but the majority of its members] complied with this scheme showed, once again, that the independent judiciary is fading away.”
As voters slowly came out of their houses on Sunday morning to cast their ballots, Atilay, an AK Party supporter took time to smoke a cigarette outside his local polling station in the inner city suburb of Tarlabasi.
Atilay, who requested his last name be withheld, said there were serious problems with the last election in March, and the issues will be fixed with this rerun.
“Everybody had their accusations about the last election, I don’t know who was right,” Atilay said.
Investment and debt
He said he continues to vote for AK Party candidates because of the long list of infrastructure projects and investments made in Istanbul over the last 20 years, citing new metro lines and the Marmaray tunnel which runs under the Bosphorus connecting the European and Asian sides of the city.
These projects are a common explanation for why AK Party supporters around Istanbul support Yildirim.
They say Erdogan’s experience in previous positions of power, including as Turkey’s prime minister, has shown that he “keeps his promises”.
Atilay’s friend Turgay, 60, said he stands proudly with the opposition in this election and chimed in with a tongue-in-cheek comment.
“It’s very clear what they [AK Party] have done for the last two decades,” Turgay said, requesting his last name not be used.
He echoed the same changes in the capital as Atilay, but attempted to link the substantial spending within the Istanbul municipality to Turkey’s faltering economy.
During his brief tenure as mayor, Imamoglu learned that Istanbul had a debt of $4.5bn, which he swiftly announced to the public.
This figure pushed him to more fervently campaign against “a system of extravagance” and the inequality of wealth distribution in Istanbul.
Turgay is certain Imamoglu will win today’s election and looks forward to the “big” difference he will make for Istanbul.
“It’s going to be a big explosion when Imamoglu wins,” Turgay said.
“Everything is going to be beautiful,” he said, echoing CHP’s campaign slogan.
Spanning across 39 districts of Istanbul, 31,342 ballot boxes have been distributed, from which the count of votes is expected to start around 1600 GMT.
The opposition has gathered thousands of lawyers from across the country to monitor polling stations and various independent and citizen-run organisations have launched platforms to cross-check the ballot counts.