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HomeHeadlineIstanbul Elections: A Critical Showdown Between İmamoğlu and Erdoğan

Istanbul Elections: A Critical Showdown Between İmamoğlu and Erdoğan

Levent Kenez*


After the nomination of Murat Kurum, known for his unpopularity, a sense of relief is observed in the CHP camp. However, both the ruling party and the opposition are well aware of how premature victory celebrations can backfire.

Before the last elections, except for the residents of Beylikdüzü, nobody knew İmamoğlu. His recognition rate before the 2019 elections was announced as 16%. İmamoğlu faced Binali Yıldırım, who had an impressive CV including being a former Prime Minister and Minister. Yıldırım, having left the position of the Speaker of the Parliament, lost to İmamoğlu, whom many in Istanbul were hearing about for the first time.

Different dynamics were at play. The excitement of the Nation Alliance, HDP not fielding a candidate, Erdoğan’s arrogance in dismissing the previous mayor and telling voters, “I make the decisions, not you,” the AKP organization not working as before during the elections, and the economic conditions determined the outcome. The role of Canan Kaftancıoğlu’s organization at the polls also deserves acknowledgment…

Those who were mistaken were not only those who predicted Binali Yıldırım would win the Istanbul election, but also those who thought, “Erdoğan wouldn’t allow an election he’d lose to be repeated.” The margin of 12,000 votes jumped to 800,000. The contribution of a significant number of ruling party voters who, disillusioned, did not vote in the second election, was notable.

Now, CHP’s candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu is running as the incumbent mayor. He’s a mayor who has faced obstructions since his election, with the immediate removal of his powers related to urban planning. Considering these factors, İstanbullu voters might see him as not having achieved an outstanding mayoral term, but also not making major mistakes under the circumstances.

Murat Kurum, a real estate broker! Murat Kurum is a ‘real estate’ broker. Let’s skip the treatment of him as an urban transformation genius. He represents the mentality that has turned every part of Turkey into concrete piles. He was one of the suspects of the major corruption operation on December 17-25. In a country with justice, he would have been a bureaucrat who should have been prosecuted. He is coming to work for Erdoğan and his family…

In the last general and presidential elections, the opposition votes were above those of the People’s Alliance. The owners of the votes İmamoğlu needs are as follows: İYİ Party 8%, DEM (HDP) 8%, and TİP 4%.

Considering that the İYİ Party and, given the current situation, the DEM Party will field their candidates, İmamoğlu’s task is not easy. Even knowing they won’t win, loyal voters from both parties will emerge.

İmamoğlu needs to work on convincing the opposition electorate in a modern communication style, similar to how the Welfare-AKP line used to say, “We must not lose the stronghold.” İYİ Party and DEM Party voters may think differently from the rising sentiment in their party leaderships of “What do we care? Whether CHP wins or AKP!” Because they live in the city. We must not forget that İmamoğlu’s re-election will mark a further step in the government’s pressure and intimidation tactics.

The Istanbul election will be an indicator of the opposition’s continued existence and resistance to an authoritarian leader. Especially if İmamoğlu wins without the support of DEM and İYİ Parties, it would be a significant achievement, potentially eliminating the need for the opposition to search for a candidate in the next presidential election. One of Erdoğan’s goals is indeed to tarnish İmamoğlu’s charisma.

Election strategy; terror nonsense! Erdoğan revealed that the election strategy would be the classic terror nonsense at the meeting where Kurum’s candidacy was announced. This includes preventing defections from MHP and sending a message to the İYİ Party base. There’s also the emphasis on Kurum being the ideal candidate for urban transformation in a city fearful of earthquakes.

What AKP understands from urban transformation, of course, means new avenues for profiteering. Especially with the ‘Kanal Istanbul’ project, which is unlikely to happen, and other projects advertised in the Arab world, the aim is to quickly convert them into cash.

No one has forgotten the last election’s slogan, “Brothers, who are we going to say on Sunday? Sisi or Yıldırım?” Of course, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, Sisi has now become ‘Brother Sisi!’ If AKP wins, the city’s identity will continue to suffer increasingly. If CHP can explain this without descending into Islamophobia and Arab racism, it will undoubtedly gain support.

The Istanbul election is a duel between İmamoğlu and Erdoğan. It’s not just a municipal election. It could be an election where those dissatisfied with the country’s direction send a message not only to the government but also to their own party leaderships.

*Levent Kenez is journalist, political commentator and a columnist at TR724.com.

This article was originally published at TR724.com and translated into English by Politurco.

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