Ousted Istanbul opposition mayor defiant, hopeful for new election

'Everything will be beautiful': Ousted Istanbul opposition mayor defiant, hopeful for election re-run
5 min read
07 May, 2019
Ekrem Imamoglu - mayor of Istanbul for only 20 days - has vowed to fight back and win the position once more after the vote was retroactively cancelled.
Turkey's electoral authority cancelled the election on Monday after weeks of tensions [Getty]

Former Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu gave a self-assured, defiant and hopeful speech on Monday night after Turkey's electoral authority cancelled the election which had crowned him mayor of the country's largest city.

The politician, formerly unknown outside of his former constituency, has collected supporters in droves over the past few months.

Turkey's Supreme Electoral Board (YSK) on Monday announced the results of the 31 March elections would be cancelled and the election would be re-run at a later date.

Imamoglu, of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), was officially declared mayor of Istanbul last month after weeks of partial re-counts requested by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

He won the vote with a slim majority of around 15,000 votes, beating out the AKP's candidate Binali Yildirim, a former prime minister.

As the government has appointed a "trustee" mayor, Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya, in his place before elections are held again on 23 June, Imamoglu was only able to serve 20 days as mayor of Istanbul.

Imamoglu live-streamed his initial reaction to the decision on Facebook, filmed during a modest Iftar (fast-breaking dinner) with a constituent family.

"I want you to know that everything will be beautiful," he said in the video, calling on his former constituents to not lose hope.

"Everything will be beautiful" soon became a trending hashtag on Twitter in Turkey used by celebrities and members of the public alike.

'We will win'

Imamoglu later on Monday night gave a televised address in which he lambasted the decision to cancel the elections but put himself forward once more as a hopeful and defiant candidate.

"When we started out, we didn't have the media on our side, we didn't have any support from the state. But we had you on our side, we had the people," said Imamoglu.

Imamoglu condemned the YSK for succumbing to "political pressure" from the ruling AKP, calling the cancellation decision "traitorous".

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has insisted that the cancellation is necessary due to "organised corruption and irregularities" in the vote. On Tuesday, he welcomed the decision to re-run the elections.

But opposition voices claim the decision is politically motivated.

Many anti-AKP social media users have said that the cancellation makes clear that the only acceptable election for the AKP is one in which it wins.

This view, they say, is buoyed by the fact that the YSK's cancellation is based on the identity of ballot box officials and the composition of electoral boards.

The same officials and boards who presided over votes in the cancelled mayoral elections presided over votes - made on the same ballots and cast in the same ballot boxes - for municipal council candidates and mukhtar (neighbourhood chief) candidates.

Those elections, in which the majority of seats were won by the AKP, have not been cancelled.

"The same people you said couldn’t oversee elections oversaw presidential elections and the constitutional referendum," stated Imamoglu. "Overturn those then!"

He then called on everyone to "talk about what has happened here".

"Now is the time to talk. Speak up. The only reason they didn't allow me to lead was that I refuse to listen to one man," he said, referring to Erdogan.

"I listen to 16 million [the population of Istanbul]."

No boycott

Imamoglu rejected the "hopelessness" felt by many opposition supporters after the cancellation, calling on them to "dry their tears" and "work together" towards a victory.

"Our road is long, our excitement is high, we have our youth. We are the young who believe in democracy thirst for justice… We will not allow this nation to be taken over by a handful of people," he said in the impassioned speech.

Opposition voices have warned to expect "corruption" and even "rigging" in the forthcoming Istanbul mayoral election.

While some floated the idea of the opposition boycotting the election to show the "absence" of free and fair elections in Turkey, that idea was cast aside on Tuesday when the CHP officially announced that it would not boycott the vote, and that Imamoglu would again run against Yildirim, who the AKP also confirmed as its candidate.

Turkey's small Communist Party - which has just one mayor in the country - has said it will not run a candidate in the forthcoming election in order to strengthen support of Imamoglu.

Gokcinar Imamoglu, the former candidate for the Istanbul mayoral election from the Islamist Saadet Party, said on Tuesday he was also willing to withdraw from the race to support Imamoglu.

While the party only gained 1.2% of the vote on 31 March, it is very likely the election will be extremely tightly run again, making otherwise negligible figures crucial for the victory of either Yildirim or Imamoglu.

Despite fears of corruption, Imamoglu concluded his speech as he started it - hopeful and defiant: "Everything will be beautiful. We have hope and our hope is right here. On this Ramadan evening, we are here with Allah... We will win."