(Bloomberg) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ditched his plans to aggressively campaign for the ruling party in the rerun of the Istanbul mayor’s election, worried that could cost his candidate the race, according to three officials.
Erdogan, 65, has abandoned plans for dozens of rallies in Turkey’s commercial hub before the June 23 ballot in favor of a campaign led by the AK Party’s candidate, according to the officials, who asked not to be identified because the information is sensitive. The Turkish leader has also allowed his candidate, former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, to join the first televised political debate between Istanbul mayoral candidates in two decades, they said.
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Erdogan shifted strategy after AKP officials concluded that the president’s prominence during the previous campaign benefited the opposition CHP party’s candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, the officials said. Imamoglu was initially deemed the winner of the March 31 race, yet served only 18 days because Erdogan spearheaded a successful challenge to the results. The declaration of a revote has deepened concerns about the foundations of Turkey’s democracy.
No one understands the import of the Istanbul mayor’s job more than Erdogan, who used it as a springboard to become the country’s most dominant leader in over half a century. But Imamoglu’s popularity has only swelled since election authorities deemed the vote tainted, and Yildirim will be trying to drum up more support in the June 16 debate.
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“Many voters saw the president’s intense campaigning in the March mayoral election as unbecoming,” said Mert Yildiz, founder of political advisory Foresight in Istanbul. “He is now pinning his hopes on Yildirim, a veteran politician with a sense of humor, to deny Imamoglu a crucial political post that could turn him into a formidable presidential rival.”
Imamoglu, 49, won in March by a margin of 14,000 ballots in the city of more than 10 million registered voters, briefly ending a quarter-century of rule by AKP and its predecessor. Both he and the 63-year-old Yildirim are looking to mobilize support among the 1.7 million registered voters who didn’t cast ballots in March.
Imamoglu is holding daily rallies around the city and still enjoys the crucial backing of some other opposition parties, including the pro-Kurdish HDP and the nationalist IYI Party. AKP has resorted to more subtle and targeted tactics such as focusing on disgruntled Kurdish voters and Islamic sects, said Yildiz, the analyst.
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“AK Party is aware that targeting Imamoglu in the previous vote and then the cancellation of the vote made him a victim in the eyes of some voters,” said pollster Ihsan Aktas of GENAR. “It is now trying to avoid targeting and even mentioning Imamoglu’s name in order to erase the image of him as a victim.”
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