Istanbul Mayor Imamoglu: "March elections will send Erdogan a democracy message"
In a Monday interview, Istanbul's opposition Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu declared that March's local elections would send President Tayyip Erdogan's government a clear message about the Turkish people's craving for democracy, justice, and the rule of law.
At 52, Imamoglu faces a tougher re-election campaign than his first victory five years ago, as opposition parties no longer stand united against Erdogan's AK Party (AKP) candidates.
Governing Turkey's largest city, Imamoglu, a prominent national figure in the opposition, is confident about defeating the AKP's new candidate, Murat Kurum, a former government minister. He underscored Istanbul's role in voicing Turkey's aspirations for democracy, justice, and the rule of law.
"If we succeed," Imamoglu, from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), said, "we'll send the government multiple messages. They should be concerned about that."
Erdogan's critics accuse his administration of eroding Turkey's judiciary, civil rights, and press freedoms, charges the government denies.
Erdogan secured re-election as Turkey's president last May, while his AKP and allies gained a parliamentary majority. This victory spotlights the uphill battle the dispirited opposition faces in the March 31 municipal elections.
Internal disagreements have prevented the CHP and other opposition parties, including the nationalist IYI Party and the pro-Kurdish DEM, from fielding joint candidates in major cities—a strategy that led to their success in 2019.
Imamoglu believes he can win over voters from both other opposition parties and the AKP. He acknowledged the increased difficulty compared to the last election when alliances were more defined.
In 2019, Imamoglu ended the AKP's 25-year rule in Istanbul, a significant defeat for Erdogan, who once served as the city's mayor. The AKP's call for a vote re-run failed to change the outcome; Imamoglu won with an even larger margin. He views the 2019 election, where the AKP also lost Ankara and other cities, as a turning point in Turkish politics.
Despite challenges from the central government, Imamoglu's administration has successfully delivered services and development in Istanbul. "We didn't receive any financial support from public banks, yet we've achieved considerable success," he stated.
Erdogan recently named Kurum as the AKP's mayoral candidate to revitalize Istanbul after what he terms five years of interregnum. Imamoglu, however, dismisses Kurum's impact on his own campaign prospects.
The mayor also downplayed concerns about a 2.5-year prison sentence and political ban imposed by a court for insulting public officials post his 2019 win. The court of appeals has yet to confirm the sentence, which the opposition views as indicative of Erdogan's willingness to meddle in judicial affairs.