Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu has been sentenced to two years and seven months in prison. Reason: He countered with a politician who had called him an idiot.
Tanya von Arxforeign editor
“Who wins Istanbul, wins Turkey,” said President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (68) once. Ekrem Imamoğlu (52) achieved a spectacular victory in the mayoral elections in the metropolis on the Bosphorus three years ago. According to polls, the opposition politician also has a good chance of inheriting Erdogan as head of state.
But six months before the presidential elections in Turkey, a court has dealt a massive blow to the ambitious politician’s career.
Imamoğlu was sentenced to two years and seven months in prison. The reason for this: Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu (53) from the ruling AKP party called him an idiot – whereupon Imamoğlu countered. He said those who canceled the mayoral elections in Istanbul were idiots.
«Imamoğlu is a central figure in the opposition»
The 2019 mayoral election was held twice. In the first ballot, Imamoğlu was around 14,000 votes ahead of his competitor from the AKP, President Erdogan’s party (68). The AKP challenged the result, and the competent High Electoral Council declared the election invalid. In the repeat election, Imamoğlu won again – by around 800,000 votes.
Imamoğlu is now to be jailed for two years and seven months for his comment. A harsh judgement. Not without reason. “It is very obvious that President Erdogan and his government want to prevent a candidate with great opportunities in view of the upcoming presidential election in June,” says Turkey expert Ali Sonay from the University of Bern to Blick.
Imamoğlu would have had a good chance of replacing Erdogan as president. “The mayoral office in Istanbul comes with political, economic and symbolic power, which is why Imamoğlu has become a central figure in the opposition – so much so that he has been discussed as a possible candidate in the upcoming presidential elections.”
“Court processes are the central instrument”
The verdict caused a stir in Turkey. According to surveys, a large part of the population also considers the conviction to be unfair and politically motivated. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Istanbul the day after the conviction.
Imamoğlu is just one of many who have been sidelined by Erdogan. Sonay on Blick: “Court processes are the central instrument to weaken, delegitimize or render ineffective opponents who challenge the power or the government of the AKP.”
In Turkey, the president can rule for a maximum of two terms. Erdogan would only be in power for another five years if he were re-elected. Sonay does not believe that he is simply withdrawing from politics. “He will certainly use a possible further term to work towards his successor.” For example, he could continue to exert influence if he remained the AKP party leader.
Turks doubt Erdogan
As tight as Erdogan is clinging to power, the crackdown on Imamoğlu could be his undoing. The controversial verdict could give new impetus to the difficult cooperation of the heavily fragmented opposition in Turkey. So far, the alliance has not been able to agree on a single candidate.
Initial polls show that Wednesday’s decision could backfire on Erdogan. Accordingly, even many voters of his Islamic conservative AKP party consider the verdict against the mayor to be “politically” motivated.