"Elections are backbone of democracies. According to the result as of now, my competitor Ekrem Imamoglu is leading the race," AK Party's Binali Yildirim says.

Ekrem Imamoglu delivers a speech during a campaign event in Istanbul.
Ekrem Imamoglu delivers a speech during a campaign event in Istanbul. (AA Archive)

Turkey's opposition party mayoral candidate on Sunday thanked Istanbulites and hailed a "new beginning" for Istanbul, as unofficial results of the local election rerun showed a comfortable win for him.

"You protected our century-old democratic tradition, thanks to fellow citizens of Istanbul,” Republican People's Party (CHP) Ekrem Imamoglu said to the media in Istanbul, echoing the sentiment of rival candidate Binali Yildirim

Imamoglu said the outcome of the election is not a “victory” but a “new beginning” for the city.

"Elections are the backbone of democracies. According to the result as of now, my competitor Ekrem Imamoglu is leading the race" Yildirim said.

“I congratulate him (Imamoglu) and wish success (in his post). The results have showed that Turkey’s democracy has functioned in an excellent manner,” Yildirim said, an hour after the Supreme Election Council (YSK) lifted a coverage ban.

With over 99 percent of the ballots opened, Imamoglu was leading with 54.03 percent of the votes against 45.9 percent for Yildirim, according to Anadolu Agency.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdigan tweeted, "I congratulate Ekrem Imamoglu, who appears to have won the rerun of Istanbul's mayoral election ... without compromising democracy, the rule of law and the peace, prosperity and stability of our country, we will continue to walk towards our 2023 goals.”

Rerun of the Istanbul vote 

Earlier during the day, polls opened with millions of Istanbulites heading to cast their votes to elect their city's mayor for the next five years in a rerun of the local poll.

Voting started at 0500 GMT (8 am local time) and continued till 1400 GMT (5 pm local time). There were 31,342 ballot boxes in play across 39 districts of Istanbul.   

Yildirim and Imamoglu were vying to run the metropolitan municipality of Turkey's most populous city after a previous vote on March 31 was annulled by the country's top election council last month.

Millions of Turkish voters cast their votes nationwide on March 31 in local elections to choose mayors, city council members, mukhtars (neighbourhood officials), and members of elder councils for the next five years.

TRT World's Francis Collings brings more from outside a polling station on the Asian side of Istanbul.

Voter turnout

By midday, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Imamoglu and Yildirim had all cast their votes in their respective neighbourhoods.

On March 31, the voter turnout was 83.88 percent, six percentage points lower than the previous local elections of March 30, 2014.

In Istanbul, Imamoglu received 48.8 percent of the vote, whereas Yildirim got 48.55 percent, according to official figures from the Supreme Election Council (YSK).

AK Party won 24 district municipalities across the province, while the CHP won 14.

The results in March were cancelled after AK Party and its coalition partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), appealed to the YSK, citing irregularities and contradictions with legal measures, leading to the annulment of Imamoglu's mayoral certificate.

Why the rerun?

The YSK ruled in favour of a rerun, with seven votes in favour and four against.

Some 30,281 votes in 108 ballot boxes were declared invalid due to vote-counting sheets being unsigned or absent altogether, the Council said in a statement.

Also, polling clerks who were not civil servants served in 754 polling centres on March 31 in Istanbul.

The council said this practice was unprecedented and influenced the difference between the governing and opposition alliances – down to 13,729 ballots – and therefore raised questions on the validity of results.

Council chief Sadi Guven earlier said all eligible voters who cast their ballots in the March 31 poll would be able to do so again in a redo vote for Istanbul’s metropolitan mayor.

However, 44,852 voters were removed from the electoral lists due to conviction, military service or death.

The YSK announced the total number of voters would be 10,560,963 for the June 23 elections.

Voters will go to 31,342 ballot boxes in 39 districts, according to the YSK.

On the March 31 elections, voters chose from among 32 – 24 of them independent – on the ballot.

This time, there will be only 21 candidates, including nominees from AK Party, the CHP, the Felicity (Saadet) Party and the Patriotic (Vatan) Party along with 17 independent hopefuls.

Istanbul mayoral race debate

Yildirim and Imamoglu on June 16 sat down for a televised debate a week ahead of the rerun polls.

This was the first political debate after AK Party won the Istanbul mayorship 17 years ago.

During the debate, moderated by veteran journalist and TV presenter Ismail Kucukkaya, Yildirim stressed that AK Party had first proposed a recount of all invalid ballots, not a new election, but that the opposition failed to cooperate.

"If my vote was tallied for the CHP or another candidate, this was theft," he said.

For his part, Imamoglu rejected the accusations of voting theft and characterised the Istanbul revote as part of the fight for democracy, "not just a local election".

Moving on to election promises, Imamoglu said if elected, he would assign a desk to look exclusively into Syrians living in the city.

Yildirim said Syrians were already active in the social and working life in Istanbul and that municipal initiatives on the issue "already exists", though that they could be strengthened.

Both candidates agreed that Turkey has not yet received enough international support on the Syrian refugee issue.

They also promised to create new jobs for Istanbulites through new projects and municipal employment offices, as well as to increase green space across the city.

During campaigning, both CHP and AK Party leaders attended several meetings in different districts of the city and held nearly daily public demonstrations.

Election ban regulations

Both parties conducted active election campaigns with advertisements via a variety of media outlets on TV and radio.

Turkey's radio and television authority earlier announced that campaign would end on June 22, 1500 GMT (6 pm).

After this, the ban prohibits political advertisements on all broadcasters, news about the election and its results or any predictions about its outcome. 

The ban is expected to be lifted a few hours after polls close.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies