Istanbul Residents To Vote In New Election For Mayor June 23

Jun 4, 2019
Originally published on June 5, 2019 6:41 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Voters in Turkey's largest city, Istanbul, will be choosing a new mayor this month; to be precise, they are choosing again. They already voted once. A candidate from a party opposed to Turkey's president won that election, but then the ruling party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan complained about alleged irregularities and got a redo. The move to rerun an election that the ruling party did not like the first time is widely seen as another warning that Turkish democracy is in danger. And some voters are not happy to be voting again, NPR's Peter Kenyon reports.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The ruling party candidate for mayor, former prime minister Binali Yildirim, says this time he's going to win. But if a recent unscientific sample of voter opinion is indicative, he has some strong opposition to overcome. As soon as 51-year-old Mehmet Volkan Girican (ph) hears that a reporter wants to know what he thinks of the election do-over, he gives a snort - completely ridiculous, he says.

MEHMET VOLKAN GIRICAN: (Through interpreter) I think it's a total injustice. It's unheard of anywhere in the world. You give the mandate to a mayor, and then you take it back - why? So your crooked schemes aren't exposed to scrutiny.

KENYON: Girican works in the finance sector, and he's among those who believe the ruling Justice and Development Party is desperate to keep the opposition out of the mayor's office so what critics call its history of steering lucrative contracts to supporters doesn't come to light. When asked if he thinks this vote will be conducted fairly, Girican says he's not sure.

GIRICAN: (Through interpreter) I have questions about that. But I think they will taste defeat again and, this time, by a bigger margin.

KENYON: In the March vote, opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu won by fewer than 14,000 votes out of nearly 9 million cast. He even took office briefly before the vote was nullified. President Erdogan, in calling for a revote, went so far as to declare that such a narrow victory shouldn't count as a win at all.

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PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through interpreter) In a city like Istanbul, with over 10 million voters, no one has the right or the authority to claim victory when the difference is only some 13- to 14,000 votes.

KENYON: But to his critics, the forced rerun of the election is just the latest example of what they call Erdogan's increasingly heavy-handed governing style. Sixty-four-year-old Yildiz Gurdal (ph) says she has no doubt Imamoglu won the first time, which makes a second vote unnecessary. She calls the revote an election without legitimacy, being held under pressure and tyranny. She says it's destroyed her faith in Turkish democracy.

YILDIZ GURDAL: (Through interpreter) A candidate works hard for months sweating, and then they take away his mandate after giving it to him like a toy to play with for a little while. I think it's disgusting.

KENYON: The ruling party has held the mayor's seat for more than two decades, but there are signs voters have had enough. Retired military veteran Bulent Uzer (ph) says he's disappointed by the ruling party's maneuvering but not really surprised. As far as he's concerned, Turkey hasn't had a real leader since the republic's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who died in 1938.

BULENT UZER: (Through interpreter) Since Ataturk, there hasn't been a single leader to come into power who wasn't a thief. They filled their pockets; they had no concern about the public.

KENYON: The ruling party says it's launching a massive get-out-the-vote campaign, targeting traditional supporters who didn't cast votes in March. The opposition, meanwhile, is predicting an even stronger turnout and a bigger victory. The turnout prediction at least has some evidence to support it. A Turkish travel agents association says people are calling in large numbers to change their holiday plans to make sure they're here on June 23.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.