May 8, 2019 / 6:28 PM / 6 months ago

Istanbul residents change holiday plans to vote in election re-run

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Istanbul residents are cancelling holiday bookings for the weekend of June 23 to ensure they can take part in a re-run of the city’s mayoral election that has laid bare Turkey’s deep political divisions and raised concerns about its democracy.

FILE PHOTO: Tourists enjoy a beach in the Turkish Mediterranean resort city of Antalya, a popular destination for both Turkish and foreign tourists. July 25, 2016. REUTERS/Kaan Soyturk/File Photo

Airlines and travel agencies are allowing people to reschedule flights planned around that weekend for free and municipalities in some popular holiday resorts such as Bodrum have even put out spoof warnings to discourage Istanbul residents from visiting on that weekend.

Don’t come to Bodrum on June 23, the district council said in a tongue-in-cheek travel advisory aimed at Istanbul residents, as heavy snowfall is expected and the beaches will be shut. Summer temperatures in the Aegean resort average 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

But behind such jokes is a serious message - every vote counts after the candidate of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) won the March 31 mayoral race in the city of some 15 million people by just 13,000 votes.

After weeks of appeals by President Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AK Party (AKP) who alleged voting irregularities, Turkey’s election board on Monday ordered a re-run of the mayoral race, a decision that drew criticism from Turks across the political spectrum and from European politicians.

“We are in contact with 5,500 travel agencies and we have been informed that nearly all reservations departing from Istanbul (that weekend) have requested cancellation, almost 100 percent,” said Cem Polatoglu, a spokesman for Travel Agencies Platform.

HIGH TURNOUT

The political allegiances of travellers who cancelled their trips are not known but the coastal municipalities which issued the spoof travel warnings are held by the opposition CHP.

“I think the decision to re-run elections is nonsense,” said Merih Onder, 41, who will return home to Istanbul earlier than planned from a wedding on June 22 in southern Turkey to vote.

“I will vote for the candidate who I think was wronged,” he added.

Berke Ertunc, 35, said he would have cancelled his trip to Beirut even if the airline company had not offered him a full refund.

“When we see the previous election (on March 31) was won by 13,000 votes, even one vote counts in this election,” he said.

Turnout in Turkish elections tends to be much higher than in many Western countries. Some 84 percent of Istanbul’s registered 10.6 million voters cast their ballots in the March vote.

Turkish Airlines said it would allow customers to change flights between June 21-26 free of charge on trips booked ahead of the re-run announcement. Pegasus Airlines and others are also allowing free flight changes or cancellations.

And just to make sure Istanbul residents are getting the message about their civic duty, the municipality of Adana on the Mediterranean coast issued an advisory saying the city was expecting temperatures of 150 degrees Celsius (302 degrees Fahrenheit) on June 23.

Reporting by Ceyda Caglayan; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Gareth Jones

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