ANKARA: The Turkish opposition candidate for the Istanbul mayoralty election re-run has emerged as the clear frontrunner to take office, according to latest opinion polls.
Surveys of thousands of voters in the Turkish city suggest Ekrem Imamoglu is on course for victory over his political rival Binali Yildirim.
One of Turkey’s leading polling companies, Konda, gave Imamoglu an 8-9 percent lead in the race to become mayor based on the results of 3,498 interviews it carried out in 157 districts of Istanbul.
Another poll by Sonar, published on June 16, also put Imamoglu ahead with 52.3 percent of the vote against Yildirim’s 46.7 percent.
The country’s ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) requested a re-run of the vote after losing the Istanbul mayoral elections to the opposition on March 31.
Nezih Onur Kuru, a political analyst and a doctoral researcher on political psychology from Istanbul’s Koc University, said economic conditions along with a rise in unemployment, were key factors in the polls’ results.
“Imamoglu can increase support from AKP and its nationalistic ally MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) voters, who have been affected by economic developments since the last election, and from opposition voters who did not turn out in the last elections. The difference is at least 2.5 percent according to the economic voting model,” Kuru told Arab News.
During his campaign for the re-run, Imamoglu, who comes from a pious and conservative family, succeeded in rallying further votes behind his charisma, energy, pro-secular credentials and persistence in keeping his hard-won mayoral post.
His recent comments regarding swimming pools and alcohol-free restaurants were also aimed toward capturing undecided right-wing voters, added Kuru.
During a televised debate with Yildirim, Imamoglu promised to open more women-only pools in Istanbul and not to allow alcoholic beverages in municipality-run restaurants.
Dr. Emre Erdogan, co-founder of Istanbul-based Infakto Research Workshop, said: “There is a common feeling that Imamoglu will be the winner, and the discussions are about the difference.” He said the decision to re-run the election had created a negative reaction which had helped Imamoglu to attract new voters.
“Such a possible victory will have important symbolic and materialistic consequences, first about the belief of invincibility of Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Turkish president) and it will create a common hope among the opposition bloc members for the forthcoming elections expected to be held in June 2023,” the researcher added.
Supporters of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) are also expected to back Imamoglu at the vote June 23.
Imamoglu had been critical of what he described as waste and extravagance in the Istanbul metropolitan municipality. However, he faced a smear campaign in the pro-government media over his “Greek” roots.
Experts say a big election win for the opposition candidate would have serious political implications for the AKP, which has held the mayoralty of Istanbul for 25 years.
“A victory for Imamoglu will create an important wave within the AKP about responsibility for the defeat, and these discussions will be transformed to an intensified political conflict within the party. It will be crystallized in the formation of the new government,” Dr. Erdogan said.