Saturday, May 21, 2022

Yildirim vs Imamoglu: Istanbul election campaign with local themes


Zubair Yaqoob
The author has diversified experience in investigative journalism. He is Chief content editor at

In the second attempt, the election campaign for the mayor’s office of Istanbul has arrived where it belongs: on local issues. In particular, the candidate of the ruling AKP, Binali Yildirim, is suddenly very concerned about everyday issues of the citizens: the first hour in urban parking lots should be free, it is said on one of the election posters of the former Prime Minister or ten gigabytes of free internet per month for students.

In a car park near the central Istiklal Street, Avenue in Istanbul, a large-screen animation shows how 63-year-old Yildirim envisioned the future of Greater Istanbul urban transport with an intelligent, connected transport concept and hundreds of kilometers of cycle paths. The tiresome traffic jams were finally a thing of the past, is the message – almost as if the party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had not governed here for a quarter of a century.

A few dozen meters further on, a message sounds through the pedestrian precinct, which at first glance sounds similar, packaged differently: “Everything will be very good,” campaigners from Ekrem Imamoglu call out and distribute brochures in which the candidate of the secular-nationalist CHP his present concepts for the future of the 15 million-inhabitant city. Above all, Imamoglu’s new slogan that everything is going to be very good should give confidence to his followers: that he will again prevail on Sunday, in spite of all attempts at preventing the AKP.

With 13,000 votes ahead of Yildirim, Imamoglu had won the mayoral election on 31 March, even a recounting did not change the result. With flimsy arguments, the AKP nevertheless obtained an annulment of the election by the Supreme Electoral Council – after this question had apparently prevailed for some time indecision within the party to Erdogan. Eventually, those who believe that Istanbul is too important, both symbolic and economic, to prevail.

Since the decision of May 6, Imamoglu, who had already received his certificate of appointment, is more combative. In his election campaign, the 49-year-old politician, who had previously served as mayor of the Beylikduzu district since 2014, is undauntedly referred to as the “elected mayor”. He continues to woo all constituencies that are important to his success; because with the core clientele of the CHP alone, the choice can not win.

Imamoglu must make offers that are also supporters of the progressive, pro-Kurdish party HDP convincing – given the traditionally anti-Kurdish policy of CHP is not an easy task. Accordingly, he promotes forgiveness. On the ACP side, there have been clearly visible changes: With Yildirim hardly in focus before the first election, the campaign is now much more tailored to him. “In the first election everything was stylized to a question of national survival,” says Kristian Brakel, who heads the office of the Heinrich Boll Foundation in Istanbul. “Many felt that this was excessive.” Now everything was down to earth. “The face of choice was now Yildirim, not Erdogan,” says Brakel.

At a press conference in Istanbul on Thursday, the President and AKP Chairperson doubted recently published poll results, which saw Imamoglu eight points ahead of Yildirim. These data were “completely manipulative and made to order,” said Erdogan. A day earlier, he had claimed at a rally that Imamoglu was being assisted from abroad and by terrorists.

Although Erdogan announced that he would accept the election result. At the same time, however, he made hints in the past week about possible legal action against Imamoglu. Erdogan said if the governor’s libel lawsuit were successful, it could be an impediment to Imamoglu taking office.

On Thursday evening, the AKP made another move: in Turkish media was reported, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdish terrorist group PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, in a letter, called on the Kurds not to vote for CHP candidate Imamoglu on Sunday. Erdogan himself interpreted the letter on television as a “power struggle” between Öcalan and the HDP – because they had called in support of Imamoglu. Ocalan’s lawyers published the letter on Friday, pointing out that he merely admonished the HDP to remain politically independent.

Whether the transparent maneuver will stop or encourage enough Kurds to choose Imamoglus will prove to be Sunday night – with almost all observers predicting it will be a close race.

Read also: Erdogans AKP in Istanbul and Ankara in front

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