A political ban has been imposed on the mayor of Istanbul and possible Erdogan challenger Ekrem Imamoglu. An Istanbul court also sentenced him to two years and seven months in prison last month for insult. His lawyer announced an appeal against the verdict. Meanwhile, the opposition faces a major problem ahead of the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.
Since his election as mayor of the Turkish metropolis of Istanbul in 2019, Imamoglu has been considered a rising political star and a potential challenger to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the 2023 presidential election. Imamoglu narrowly won the election against the candidate of the ruling AKP party. However, the election commission annulled the result at the request of the AKP and had the election repeated – Imamoglu won again. “Everything will be fine, everything will be fine”, with this slogan he won the election for mayor of Istanbul. Observers see his victory in the 16-million metropolis as an indirect defeat for Erdogan, who campaigned for his party’s candidate. The city had previously been ruled by the AKP and its political predecessors for more than 20 years.
Imamoglu’s trial was conducted under visible security last month. The immediate area around the courthouse was cordoned off for the days of the trial and the streets were closed by police, AFP reporters said. After the verdict was announced, the convict called out to his supporters: “This is proof that there is no more justice in Turkey.” Any decision made by the judges and prosecutors is for their own benefit. He sharply attacked the circle of people around President Erdogan, describing them as “politicians who say they are the state and the nation, they say they own everything”. They influenced the judiciary and they would have ordered this verdict as well. Another surprise was a change of judges at the Higher Regional Court in the Kartal district of Istanbul, where there was a change in the post of judge. The judge initially presiding over the Imamoglu case said in early summer that what Imamoglu was accused of in no way justifies a political ban. After he made the statement, he was transferred to the province as a punitive measure.
The background to the court proceedings began on March 31, 2019, when Imamoglu narrowly defeated the AKP candidate Binali Yildirim in the election. The AKP contested the result, and so the electoral authorities called a new election for June 23. Imamoglu won the second round hands down. On October 30, 2019, Imamoglu gave a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. There he said: “The government wanted to win an election that they couldn’t win through manipulation, so they had the Electoral Board annul it.”
The electoral authority reports to Interior Minister Soylu. He then sharply attacked Imamoglu: “I say to the fool who complained about Turkey in front of the European Parliament: This nation will make you pay for it. Shame on you!” In an interview with CNN Türk, the victim hit back: “Anyone who annulled the election is a fool.” So who is this fool? The court wants to understand that Imamoglu must have meant the chairman of the election authority, Sadi Güven. He accused Imamoglu of “insulting” an official and called for a prison sentence combined with a ban on politics. The journalist from CNN Türk, who interviewed Imamoglu, testified in court that Imamoglu clearly meant the interior minister. Because your question was related to this.
After the verdict, which is not yet final – Imamoglu announced a revision – things are still not looking good for the CHP politician and the opposition, which has united for the first time and has set itself the goal of ending the era of Erdogan and his AKP. Like only Erdogan, Imamoglu can inspire the crowd.
But other opposition politicians also see themselves and their political work under threat. While President Erdogan is wooing the leader of the Iyi party, Aksener, in order to possibly free her from the opposition alliance in time for the elections and he therefore spares her from attacks, several procedures are underway against other CHP politicians for “insulting the president”. Judgments have not yet been made. This is the case with the former CHP chairwoman of Istanbul, Canan Kaftancioglu, who was initially sentenced to nine years in prison in 2019 for tweets from 2013 and 2014. In June 2022, the sentence, combined with a political ban, was reduced to four years. She is accused of insulting the president and belittling the republic. She had to give up her position as CHP provincial chair. However, she was able to perform alongside Imamoglu last month. They may soon meet again in the notorious Silivri prison for political prisoners in western Istanbul.
Many in Turkey trust Imamoglu to beat Erdogan in a presidential election. He is considered to be close to the people and decent – he avoids political mud fights. He is also eligible for conservatives: he is religious, comes – just like Erdogan’s family – from the conservative Black Sea region, and his mother wears a headscarf.
In addition to Imamoglu, two other men are under discussion for the opposition’s presidential candidacy: Kemal Kilicdaroglu, CHP leader, and Mansur Yavas from the same party and mayor of the Turkish capital Ankara. Neither candidate can match Imamoglu’s charisma. And while Kilicdaroglu and his party have lost to Erdogan in nine elections, Imamoglu can point to successes against Erdogan and his party by winning the Istanbul election twice.
At around 45 percent, the majority of Turks believe that the process is politically motivated, according to a poll by the institute Metropoll with several possible answers. Among AKP supporters, it was a good 28 percent, while 24 percent believed the trial was actually about insults. Apparently, Erdogan cannot even deceive his own supporters about the real reason for Imamoglu’s conviction.
Criticizing the obvious doesn’t seem to help the opposition any further with almost six months before the presidential and parliamentary elections: the Istanbul mayor has already appealed against his prison sentence and against the long-standing ban on politics, but his candidacy in the presidential elections has now, according to lawyers, become a risk that is difficult to calculate for opponents of President Erdogan: You can’t win an election with a candidate in prison. Officially, June 18 is the last possible election day for the presidency and parliament. There is a deadline set by the Supreme Electoral Commission to apply for the highest office in the state. However, since the election can also be held earlier than June 18, for example in April or May, there is no deadline to set the election date, which is de facto in Erdogan’s hands. If Imamoglu runs and the final court only confirms the verdict afterwards, the opposition may no longer be able to nominate a new candidate because of the unclear application deadline. Then it might be left without a convincing candidate against the resuming incumbent.
CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu appears to consider himself the best candidate, but some in the opposition alliance see things differently. He has no government experience and belongs to the Alevi Islamic minority, which many Sunni Muslims regard as heretics. The alliance also needs a candidate who will convince the Kurdish minority. In this election, the Kurds and their HDP party are seen as kingmakers. However, the HDP is not part of the Six Alliance, it only supports it.
So the chances for the incumbent could increase again!
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