Opposition candidate the official winner in tight Istanbul vote





Istanbul (AFP) - Turkish election authorities on Wednesday confirmed opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu's win over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AKP candidate after a recount of last month's disputed Istanbul election.

Thousands of cheering supporters greeted Imamoglu outside the Istanbul town hall after he received his mandate certificate, though electoral authorities must still rule on an AKP appeal for a rerun over alleged irregularities in its narrow Istanbul defeat.

"This is a new dawn for Istanbul," Imamoglu told the chanting crowds from the roof of a campaign bus. "Istanbul is proud of you."

He urged Istanbul residents to set grudges aside, promising to be "everybody's mayor".

"The people granted me the honour of leading the most beautiful city in the world... I pledge that I will repay my debt."

Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the most votes nationwide in the March 31 election, but the loss of Ankara and Istanbul to the Republican People's Party (CHP) was a stinging setback after a decade and a half in control.

The AKP has won every election since it came to power 17 years ago, in part by tying its success to strong economic growth and improvements in living standards during Erdogan's years in power, first as premier then as president.

But voters punished the party this time after a currency crisis last year hurt Turkish households, sent inflation soaring and tipped the economy into recession for the first time in a decade.

Defeat in Istanbul would be especially sensitive for Erdogan, who grew up in one of its poorer neighbourhoods and whose climb up the political career included being mayor himself in the 1990s.

The AKP had sought several recounts of the Istanbul vote, and the Supreme Electoral Council, known by its Turkish initials YSK, has yet to rule on the party's formal demand for a full rerun of Istanbul election. It was not clear how long that decision would take.

Electoral authorities finished a recount of some Istanbul ballots late on Tuesday, but the CHP had already dismissed any challenges as without merit and urged the AKP to concede.

"I am so happy", said architecture student and CHP supporter Ilayda Pembe, 25. "I was beginning to think he would never get the mandate. A new day for Istanbul is starting."

- Door to door -

For supporters, Erdogan remains the strong leader Turkey needs and one who speaks for more religiously conservative Turks. He survived a failed coup in 2016, and a referendum in 2017 granted him wider powers as president.

Critics say he has eroded Turkish rule of law and democracy however, especially after a crackdown that followed the coup resulted in the detention of tens of thousands of people.

Erdogan had campaigned hard in Istanbul, presenting the vote as a matter of national survival. He backed Binali Yildirim, a former premier and AKP heavyweight, as the party candidate.

Imamoglu, a former mayor of a local Istanbul district, ran a low-key campaign, reaching out to voters door to door to talk over local issues. He is already being credited with having revived the opposition's profile nationwide.

Erdogan himself described the Istanbul vote as marred by "organised crimes" and last week called for the ballot to be annulled.

Soon after voting had ended, electoral authorities said Imamoglu led by nearly 30,000 ballots. Both he and Yildirim claimed victory as early results showed them in a dead heat.

Imamoglu's margin narrowed to around 14,000 after a recount of void ballots over the last fortnight.

The CHP said Tuesday that the final result was around 13,800 ballots in favour of Imamoglu. Each candidate won around four million votes.

Lingering uncertainty over the Istanbul result more than two weeks after the vote has worried foreign investors and weighed on the lira currency.

With no new elections until a 2023 presidential election, Erdogan's government has promised to focus on economic reform to achieve stronger growth over the next four years.

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