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Istanbul mayoral vote: Is "disastrous" loss beginning of Erdogan's end?



 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Image copyright
Getty Images

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The defeat of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AKP party ends 25 years of its rule in Istanbul
                

As the scale of Ekrem Imamoglu's victory became clear, his supporters thronged his election headquarters. Lining the street outside was a row of cameras. Among them: Turkey's state broadcaster TRT, heavily under the thumb of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A woman approached, waving here Turkish flag face of Mr Imamoglu at the TRT cameraman. "Now you're going to film us?", She cried, "we're here, now we are!"

It encapsulates the feeling of an opposition that has been stifled for years, all the organs of the Turkish state controlled by Turkey's powerful, polarizing leader. Finally, the other side of this country feels like it has covered its mouth has been unclassified.

Rarely is a local election of such national importance. But Mr. Erdogan has built his political career over twenty-five years on a sense of victory and an aura of invincibility.

He was born in Istanbul, he was mayor and it propelled him to power first as Prime Minister in 2003 and then President eleven years later.

Image copyright
Reuters

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The election of Mr Imamoglu was greeted with scenes of jubilation in Istanbul
                

He has towered over an opposition that long been hopelessly divided. And he has thrived on seemingly unchallengeable.

Accruing ever more power through the devotion of his pious, conservative supporters, he has transformed Turkey economically and socially, every area from media to construction filled with loyalists who backed him in return for favors.

A 'disastrous miscalculation'

When his AK Party (AKP) lost Istanbul in March this year by a sliver ̵

1; just 13,000 votes – the electoral board was widely regarded as buckling under the government's pressure for a run, based on dubious claim or irregularities. 19659007] "Whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey", said the country's omnipotent president, assuming this was once again a gamble he would win. It was a disastrous miscalculation

Mr. Imamoglu won by a landslide – the largest in a mayoral election here in 35 years. Conservative areas of the city – Fatih (Istanbul's pious heart by the Blue Mosque), Tuzla (the constituency of the government candidate Binali Yildrim) and Uskudar (where President Erdogan himself lives) all backed Mr Imamoglu.

Media caption Ekrem Imamoglu and his supporters celebrate in Istanbul

The answer is in one word, plastered on his posters: umut (hope) ).

The AKP called him everything they could think of: terrorist, coup supporter, fraud, Greek, as well as the Egyptian autocrat President Sisi, an arch rival or President Erdogan. He rebuffed the smears with smiles

Vowing to embrace his opponents, he has pushed his message of an inclusive Turkey and a greener, a fairer of Istanbul, freed of the corruption and nepotism that have built up over 25 years of conservative rule.

Image copyright
Reuters

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Mr Imamoglu said his win market a "new beginning" for Istanbul
                

His team uncovered a deficit of almost $ 4bn (£ 3.1bn), almost due to state tenders linked to President Erdogan's family. His victory could have a seismic impact here.

Is this the beginning of the end for Erdogan?

The opposition finally feels it's capable of winning – and will channel that through to the next national elections. Those are, for now, due to be defeated in 2023.

  • Why Erdogan's big ambitions could come tumbling down

Vultures are already circling, with Mr. Erdogan's predecessor as President preparing to launch a breakaway party, as is a former Prime Minister. That will be support from the President's now-declining voter base. If Mr. Erdogan's authoritarianism has grown, his inner circle has shrunk. He does not have an obvious heir – his son-in-law, the current Finance Minister, has little of his charisma.

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

Mr. Imamoglu greets supporters at a rally or in Beylikduzu district, in Istanbul
                

Whispers will now grow louder about the beginning of President Erdogan's end. But even if it comes – and nobody here underestimates his ability to bounce back – unpicking a quarter of a century of education would take far longer.

Turkish society has been battered over recent years, the country plummeting in indexes of press freedom, judicial independence and human rights. But the one thing the opposition clung to for dear life was free elections.

They partied late in celebration, celebrating victory – but also the fact that there is still life in Turkish democracy.


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