ISTANBUL (AP) — The opposition candidate for mayor of Istanbul said Monday he believes “the injustice” caused by the cancellation of his electoral win in March will galvanize voters in his favor in Sunday’s rerun election.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Ekrem Imamoglu also said a second victory for him on June 23 would amount to a win for “democracy and for Istanbul.”
In a major blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the 49-year-old from the center-left Republican People’s Party narrowly won the March 31 local election in Istanbul, Turkey’s financial center. Erdogan’s ruling party, along with a predecessor religious and conservative party, had controlled Istanbul for 25 years.
Erdogan’s party also lost control of the local government in Ankara, the Turkish capital.
After weeks of recounting requested by the ruling party, Turkey’s electoral authority annulled the result of the vote, revoked Imamoglu’s mandate and ordered the new election, citing irregularities in the composition of officials overseeing the vote. Critics say the body bowed to pressure from the ruling party.
“I believe the people of Istanbul will give the necessary response to this injustice at the polls as a result of their belief in democracy,” Imamoglu said.
He added: “This election is to repair, to treat, the oppression of democracy, the mistake against democracy, this conspiracy. And God willing, the victors will be Istanbul and democracy.”
Imamoglu couldn’t promise that the new election result not be canceled in the event of another opposition victory. His legal team, however, was working to prevent another annulment.
Imamoglu spoke a day after he and the ruling Justice and Development Party’s candidate, former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, faced off in a live televised political debate, in first held in Turkey in nearly 20 years.
Yildirim insisted during the debate that the March 31 election had been “stolen” from him.
Imamoglu called Yildrim’s claim “slanderous” and said he was the “elected mayor” who had been “cheated of rights.”
Opinion polls cited by Turkish media suggest that Imamoglu has a small lead over Yildirim.
Imamoglu said: “We’re very happy. The political arena is really beautiful. There’s an unbelievable kindness. People are aware.”
Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed.