Small parties and abstainers will determine the result of Istanbul election rerun - pollsters

Small political parties and voters who abstained on March 31 polls will play an important role in Istanbul election rerun on June 23, as there is a narrow margin between the votes of the leading candidates, Deutsche Welle reported.

Ekrem İmamoğlu, the candidate of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), won the Istanbul mayoral race in Turkey’s financial powerhouse, defeating the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate Binali Yıldırım with 13,729 votes according to official results announced after 17 days of recounting. 

Turkey’s Supreme Election Council (YSK) annulled the Istanbul election last week and rescheduled a rerun on June 23, upon the appeal of the AKP, which cited severe irregularities in mayoral race. 

Some 84 percent of Istanbul’s registered 10.6 million voters cast their ballots in the March vote, while the candidates of the smaller parties received in total almost 210,000 votes.

According to Mehmet Ali Kulat, the head of pollster MAK Research known to be affiliated to the AKP, the votes of the small parties will be crucial as the gap between the votes of the leading candidates is less than 2 percent.

The Islamist Felicity Party was a part of the opposition bloc in March 31 elections, though it fielded in Istanbul its own candidate, Necdet Gökçınar, who received 103,364 votes. The party announced this week that it would participate the June contest, though some expected that Gökçınar would withdraw to help İmamoğlu.

The decision was interpreted as a tactical one, as resentful AKP voters are more likely to vote for another Islamist party, but may avoid voting for another opposition candidate as political identities are still the most important factor that determine the preferences of the voters according to some analysts

Kulat said that the Felicity Party’s own voters would likely vote for İmamoğlu. “Despite people’s expectations, for the supporters of the Felicity Party, the AKP is the party that they distance themselves the most,” he said. 

Meanwhile, the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP), which received 30,884 votes on March 31, withdrew from rerun, but did not announce support for any of the leading candidates. According to Kulat, the party’s supporters will likely vote for İmamoğlu due to similar ideological backgrounds. 

Pollster Mehmet Günal Ölçer, the head of Polimetre, also thinks that the voters of the smaller parties will support İmamoğlu on June 23.

If the predominantly Kurdish Democratic People’s Party (HDP) supporters vote for İmamoğlu on June 23 as they did on March 31, the difference of votes between İmamoğlu and Yıldırım can be be as high as 500,000, according to Ölçer. “We believe that all other voters and 90 percent of the abstainers will vote for İmamoğlu,” he said. 

According to Kulat, most of the voters who abstained from voting on March 31, were conservative Kurds, which in the past voted for the AKP. “I believe that conservative Kurdish voters will have a decisive role in election outcome,” he said.