ANKARA (Reuters) - The Turkish opposition candidate for Istanbul mayor who was ousted from office when his March victory was annulled bested his ruling party rival in a rare TV debate, a pollster said on Monday, putting him in the lead ahead of a June 23 re-vote.
In the first debate of its kind in Turkey in nearly two decades, ruling AK Party (AKP) candidate Binali Yildirim on Sunday faced the main opposition CHP’s Ekrem Imamoglu, who won an initial vote on March 31 before he was ejected from city hall.
Defeat for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP in Istanbul, where he launched his political career and served as mayor in the 1990s, would be a huge symbolic shock and a broader sign of dwindling support amid an economic downturn.
In a poll of more than 30,000 city residents on Monday morning, polling firm Mak Danismanlik found that 46% of respondents said Imamoglu was more successful than his rival, versus 44% for Yildirim. The CHP candidate was likely to get the votes of 65% of those who shied away from the ballot box in March, it found.
“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,” Mehmet Ali Kulat, owner of Mak Danismanlik, told Reuters.
Kulat added that, as of Monday morning, Imamoglu was 1.5 percentage points ahead of his rival according to the latest polls.
In an interview with Reuters, Imamoglu, of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said the debate was 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.
Pro-AKP newspaper columnists said Yildirim’s performance was superior and a hashtag spread on Twitter - translated as “lightning strikes” - suggested he made a mark.
Yildirim, a former prime minister, narrowly lost in March by some 13,000 votes in what was one of the biggest election setbacks for Erdogan since the AKP first came to power in 2002. His political alliance retained a majority of the nationwide vote, but also lost control of the capital Ankara.
The re-run ordered by the High Electoral Board, and praised by Erdogan, has drawn international criticism and deepened fears about the erosion of rule of law in Turkey.
Additional reporting by Zeynep Arica, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Humeyra Pamuka and Toby Chopra