Ekrem Imamoglu, the main opposition candidate for Istanbul mayor who was ousted from office soon after winning March 31 mayoral election, appears to have come out on top of the government-backed candidate Binali Yildirim in a highly-anticipated live debate, Reuters reported citing a pollster on Monday.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s Yildirim on Sunday faced the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP)’s Imamoglu in the first debate of its kind in Turkey in nearly two decades.
According to Reuters, Imamoglu, who won the initial vote on March 31 but was made to quit his office when his victory was annulled, bested Yildirim in the rare TV debate taking the lead ahead of a June 23 re-vote.
Losing Istanbul would be a massive symbolic shock and a broader sign of decreasing support for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP government in the city where he started his political career as a mayor in the 1990s.
Mak Danismanlik, a polling firm, found in a poll of 33,000 city residents that 46 percent of the respondents said Imamoglu was more successful than his rival, versus 44 percent for Yildirim.
When asked which candidate they will support in the upcoming re-run, 42,5 percent of the participants stated they will cast their votes for Yildirim, while 44 percent indicated that they will vote for Imamoglu.
Mehmet Ali Kulat, the owner of Mak Danismanlik, spoke to Reuters and commented on the 1.5 percentage points difference between the candidates.
“Imamoglu talked more about what he would do, while Yildirim focused more on what he had already done. Usually, those who offer a future projection tend to do better in elections,” he explained.
The firm also found that the opposition candidate was likely to get the votes of 65 percent of those who did not go to the ballot box in March elections.
Imamoglu described the TV debate, in an interview with Reuters, as a “boost.”
“We are at a very good point…I am very clear in my opinion that after last night there isn’t at all a drop in support,” he said, adding he expects an even larger margin of victory this coming Sunday.
The performance of Turkey’s former prime minister Yildirim, whose last name means “lightning” in English, was found to be superior by pro-government columnists and a hashtag translated as “lightning strikes” was spread on Twitter suggesting that he made a mark.
Akademetre, a company for research and strategic planning, also found based on a phone interview with 1140 respondents that the number of indecisive voters dropped from 12,1 to 7,1 percent with 40 percent of them reaching a decision on who to vote after the debate.
According to the research, 57,9 percent of the participants found Imamoglu’s overall performance during the debate “successful” while only 42,1 percent expressed the same view for AKP’s Yildirim.
The research results also showed that 68 percent of female voters support Imamoglu while the remaining 32 were in favor of Yildirim. It was also indicated that AKP’s candidate is favored by 52 percent of males while the remaining 48 percent backs opposition’s Imamoglu.
In March, Yildirim narrowly lost the Istanbul mayoral race by some 13,000 votes in what was one of the biggest election setbacks for Erdogan since his AKP first came to power in 2002.
Although his political alliance retained a majority of the nationwide vote, it lost control of many major cities that include the capital Ankara.
The High Electoral Board’s decision to repeat mayoral elections in Istanbul, which was given following subsequent appeals by AKP on the matter, has drawn international criticism and raised fears about the corrosion of Turkey’s rule of law.