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Ekrem Imamoglu: Mayor's election has 'renewed our faith in democracy and justice'

Kemal Aslan, REUTERS | Ekrem Imamoglu, mayoral candidate of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), at a rally in the Beylikduzu district of Istanbul on June 23, 2019.

Ekrem Imamoglu said his victory in a Sunday re-run of Istanbul's mayoral election had "renewed our faith in democracy and our trust in justice" after voters roundly rejected the ruling AKP party candidate backed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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"Today, 16 million Istanbulites have renewed our faith in democracy and our trust in justice." With those words, Ekrem Imamoglu welcomed his victory in a controversial re-run of Istanbul’s mayoral race, ordered after Erdogan's party suffered a shock defeat in the first round in March. Imamoglu's Republican People's Party (CHP) won in certain districts for the first time in recent memory, like the historic capital district of Fatih. It is the first time an opposition party has won in Istanbul in 25 years, largely thanks to 49-year-old Imamoglu’s ability to attract voters from across the political spectrum.

At opposition's campaign headquarters, hundreds of supporters gathered to follow the results as they were reported live on television on a giant screen. As the numbers trickled in, people danced, chanted and clapped. Arda, 21, worked on the campaign and had a hard time finding words suited for the moment. "It’s the first time in my life that the AKP is not in power in Istanbul," he said. "I cannot describe how I’m feeling."

Arda said Imamoglu is the real star of the campaign, and not the CHP that was founded by Kamel Ataturk and which ruled over Turkey with a firm hand for decades. "Our current government is broken," Arda continued. "I’m sure we’ll have anticipated elections in two years, and that Ekrem Imamoglu will be president."

FRANCE 24's Jasper Mortimer reports on Istanbul's mayoral race

Throughout the campaign, Binali Yildirim of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) had refused to refer to Imamoglu by name. In his concession speech, he finally relented, saying: "We will try to help Imamoglu in everything he will do to the benefit of Istanbulites."

It’s still unclear how much leverage the new CHP mayor will have, as Istanbul’s district mayors, neighbourhood officials and city council members remain members of the majority AKP. Still, Yildirim's tone on election night was surprisingly conciliatory.

>> Ekrem Imamoglu: From opposition underdog to Istanbul mayor

Yildirim’s candidacy seemed a shoe-in for the AKP. He had served as prime minister, transport minister and, most recently, the speaker of the Grand National Assembly, Turkey's unicameral parliament. After the re-vote was announced he modeled his campaign on Imamoglu’s, staying away from giant rallies with tens of thousands of people where he was in Erdogan’s shadow. The 63-year-old revamped his policy proposals, held smaller neighbourhood rallies and touted his party’s significant infrastructure gains in Istanbul. But it was not enough.

Analyst Samim Akgonul explains why this election was so important to Erdogan

The new mayor won by more than 800,000 votes this time around, a wider margin that in the first mayoral vote of March 31, when Imamoglu's victory was secured with only 13,000 votes.

It’s a double humiliation for the AKP, which insisted on holding the re-vote after its surprising defeat. "The result was not what we expected, but this is the nature of politics," AKP member Harun Armagan told FRANCE 24 on Sunday. "Now we must accept and move on, continue our work."

With this latest result, all of Turkey’s major cities  including the capital, Ankara are in the hands of the CHP. In a tweet, President Erdogan congratulated Imamoglu and promised to work with the opposition in the run-up to 2023, the centenary of the founding of the Turkish Republic and the next scheduled presidential vote. But for the first time since he appeared on the national stage, Erdogan is being forced to face the fact that he now has a serious political challenger.

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