Istanbul Candidates Face Off in First Turkish Debate in 17 Years

(Bloomberg) -- The top two candidates to be Istanbul’s mayor faced off in the nation’s first televised election debate in 17 years on Sunday, trading charges over the outcome of an earlier vote and offering different approaches to economic growth.

Binali Yildirim, the candidate of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and Ekrem Imamoglu, of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, debated for about three hours ahead of the June 23 rerun of a vote ordered by an election body.

Istanbul Candidates Face Off in First Turkish Debate in 17 Years

The opposition candidate Imamoglu won the March 31 election, ending a quarter century of rule over Turkey’s biggest city by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party and its predecessor. But the AKP challenged the outcome, and in a controversial ruling last month, the High Election Board wiped out the earlier result and ordered a new vote.

Both Imamoglu, 49, and Yildirim, 63, are looking to capture support from the 1.7 million registered voters who didn’t cast ballots in March.

The fresh election is a “fight for democracy,’’ Imamoglu said. “It’s a fight for democracy against those who violated our rights and the rights of 16 million people.’’ He vowed to run a “clean administration.’’

Yildirim, the former prime minister, said the AKP didn’t want a new vote. “The election wouldn’t have been renewed had the CHP not resisted to recounting of all ballot papers,’’ he said.

The candidates squabbled over events on election night when Yildirim -- Erdogan’s ally -- claimed victory before final results were posted. At the time, the state-run news agency reported his lead as less than 0.1 percentage point, or about 5,000 votes. Imamoglu said he won by more than 27,000 votes, based on ballot boxes that haven’t been registered yet.

As Yildirim spoke that night, the state’s Anadolu news agency showed 98.8% of votes tallied, then stopped updating results. The opposition party criticized the agency for manipulating the results in favor of the ruling party’s candidate.

Imamoglu, noting a 12-hour halt in vote reporting, asked: “Mr. Yildirim, what do things that Anadolu Agency has done that night mean for you?’’

Yildirim, in response, directed the query to the agency. “Anadolu Agency officials should explain the reasons for halting its reporting. I admit that this is not a normal thing but I am not responsible for that.’’

As the debate was in progress, the agency issued a statement that condemned Imamoglu for his “unjust accusations,’’ and added that the “High Election Board announces the results of elections in Turkey, not Anadolu Agency.’’

On other subjects, the moderator asked about their views of Kurdish voters. Imamoglu said he will avoid partisanship that leads to polarization, which he called “one of the greatest enemies” of the nation. “We will serve all 16 million Istanbul citizens equally,’’ he said. Yildirim said he, too, will serve everyone equally without regard to ethnicity or religion.

Both candidates had ambitious economic plans to tackle poverty and unemployment. Yildirim vowed to create 500,000 jobs in Istanbul over five years by establishing bio-technology and technology centers.

Imamoglu said he will create resources by ending the ruling party’s overspending and waste, and criticized the municipality’s support of foundations run or managed by the president’s allies and family members, by way of paying for their rent and other costs.

The mayoral candidates also asked a few questions to each other. The mood of the debate was mostly calm though Imamoglu criticized his opponent for repeatedly interrupting him.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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