ISTANBUL   -   Istanbul is gearing up for a controversial rerun of March’s mayoral contest this weekend in a vote that has far reaching implications for democracy and the rule of law in Turkey.

The city’s 15 million residents are tired of voting, having been to the polls a total of 13 times since 2002 to cast ballots in general elections, local elections and referenda.

On Sunday, they will arrive at polling stations once again, after Turkey’s electoral board upheld a complaint by the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) over counting irregularities in the 31 March vote, which saw opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu pull off one of the biggest challenges to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s grip on the country in his 16 years as leader.

“The word election has a new meaning for me now and it is ‘stress’,’’ said Pelin Dinar, 36. “We have had so many elections and the way that [in March], the result was cancelled, means that our belief in fair elections is fading away each time.”

Both the public and politicians appear exhausted by the new round of campaigning, but the whole country is aware that the stakes on Sunday are high. Losing control of Turkey’s biggest city and economic heart - with a budget worth £6.95m last year and which generates 45% of the entire country’s tax revenues - is an unacceptable outcome for the AKP.

March’s defeat was also a personal blow to Erdoğan. The Turkish president was born and raised in Istanbul’s working class Kasımpaşa neighbourhood and made his debut as a nationally-recognised political figure as the first ever conservative mayor of the city in 1994.

The unprecedented conservative and working class swing away from the AKP was widely viewed as a rebuke to the president’s handling of Turkey’s economic crisis, which has sent the cost of living soaring. Unemployment currently stands at 12.7%.

The decision to cancel İmamoğlu’s narrow victory was met with outrage by both the opposition and within some factions of the government itself, who said it dented the ruling party’s democratic credentials. Ex-president Abdullah Gul and ex-prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have both openly criticised the AKP for seeking a rerun, fuelling rumours in Turkish media that the senior AKP politicians are preparing to form breakaway parties.

“The rerun decision... definitely made the cracks within the AKP more visible,” Can Selcuki, general manager of the Istanbul Economics Research think tank, told the Associated Press. “If İmamoğlu wins, it’s likely those cracks will become even more visible.”

The AKP has taken a decidedly different approach to campaigning in the run up to Sunday’s vote. In March, the campaign was dominated by the president himself. This time, Erdoğan has stayed away, and mayoral candidate Binali Yıldırım – a former prime minister and staunch ally of the president - has come up with several new policies designed to appeal to Istanbul’s younger voters and reach out to the city’s Kurdish population in order to placate voters who punished the ruling party by staying away from the voting booth in March.

In the past few days, the president has resurfaced to launch personal attacks on İmamoğlu, accusing him of acting in league with the outlawed Kurdish People’s Working Party (PKK). Despite the turbocharged AKP efforts, however, according to most polls İmamoğlu’s razor-thin lead of just 0.2% over Yıldırım in the March election has since widened. İmamoğlu, meanwhile, has cast the new election as a battle for the future of Turkish democracy.

“This is not only a local election, it is a battle for democracy. I am an elected mayor who only served for 18 days [before the vote was cancelled],” İmamoğlu said in a televised debate with Yıldırım last week. “This is a struggle against those who have seized the democratic rights of 16 million people.”