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Erdogan wants to retake Istanbul after presidential victory

Erdogan wants to retake Istanbul after presidential victory

By Nadeen Ebrahim, CNN

(CNN) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan extended his reign to a third decade after Sunday presidential election victory. His feat, however, did not turn the city of Istanbul into a strategic and personal gem that the ruler is determined to take back in 10 months.

Speaking on the top of a campaign bus outside his residence in Istanbul on Sunday, Erdogan sang to a crowd of cheering supporters and declared his next step to take back the city in the March 2024 municipal elections.

We now have 2024 ahead of us, Erdogan said. You understand what I’m saying, don’t you? Are you ready to win both Uskudar (a major district of Istanbul) and Istanbul in the 2024 local elections? So let’s not stop.

By reconquering Istanbul, Erdogan intends to have it governed by a mayor from his Justice and Development (AK) party.

Once the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul is now the largest and most populous city in Turkey. It is the economic engine of the country and home to almost 16 million people, or a quarter of the Turkish electorate.

The city was ruled for 25 years by an Islamist party, first by the Prosperity Party, of which Erdogan was a member, then by the AK Party until the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) won its mayor in 2019 under Ekrem Imamoglu. Before beginning his term as prime minister in 2003, Erdogan himself served as mayor of Istanbul between 1994 and 1998.

A savvy 52-year-old businessman, Imamoglu is the city’s 32nd mayor and ran as a potential vice-president to opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu in this year’s presidential election.

Erdogan in 2019 quickly saw he was facing a potential winner, said Berk Esen, assistant professor of political science at Istanbul Sabanci University.

Imamoglu was the most formidable politician the opposition camp had generated in the past two decades, Esen told CNN, and him being very charismatic, very young, very energetic, it was just a matter of time for Imamoglu to defeat Erdogan.

Speaking on Monday, amid celebrations of the 570th anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of the city, Imamoglu was keen to remind Erdogan that even though he won the presidential election, he still hasn’t achieved victory in his beloved Istanbul.

The opposition beat Erdogan by almost three points in Istanbul and Ankara during the second round of presidential elections on Sunday.

If you won an election and you still say the name Istanbul in your sleep, that’s fine. It’s good to dream. But that won’t be a reality, Imamoglu said in a speech at the celebrations.

Neither you nor your fabricated court decisions will ever take control of Istanbul, he said, adding that the city has become an exemplary world capital where all faiths and cultures live together and is also the center of justice, tolerance and respect for the law.

Analysts said Erdogan had taken a number of steps since 2019 to sideline Imamoglu, knowing he would be the opposition’s strongest candidate.

A 2021 survey by MetroPoll showed that, if there was a presidential election in which Erdogan and Imamoglu both ran, the latter would get almost 50% of the vote while Erdogan would get almost 39%.

Last year, however, Imamoglu was sentenced to two years, seven months and 15 days in prison and banned from political activity for insulting Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council (YSK). Human Rights Watch had called the punishment is an unwarranted and politically calculated assault on Turkey’s political opposition ahead of the 2023 elections.

Imamoglus’ lawyers said they intend to appeal the verdict, but if the decision is upheld, the mayor will not be allowed to participate in public office.

Erdogan dismissed the only figure who could have beaten him, Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, writes Soner Cagaptaysenior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in Foreign Affairs magazine.

As a result, Imamoglu had little choice but to stay out of the [presidential] race to avoid triggering a blanket ban that would also oust him from the mayor’s office, Cagaptay said.

It was not the first time that Erdogan cracked down on CHP members.

Last year, Turkey’s highest court upheld the prison sentence against Canan Kaftancioglu, who heads the CHP branch in Istanbul, accused of insulting the president.

Esen says there’s no doubt Erdogan wants to get rid of Imamoglu, but it’s unclear whether he will do so by trying to appeal to the electorate in the 2024 municipal elections, or if he will engage in an extra-legal operation. to purge Imamoglu, to essentially replace him with a state appointee.

It remains to be seen how Erdogan will take over Turkey’s commercial and electoral hub. To bring the countries back seismic south to revitalize a plummeting economythe leader still faces daunting challenges.

But the opposition, too, is in bad shape.

Following this electoral defeat, if the opposition parties do not put their house in order and continue to cooperate, but in a very rational and very strategic way, some opposition voters could become disillusioned and completely turn away from electoral politics, Esen said.

Speaking at the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges on Tuesday, Erdogan criticized the opposition’s campaign promises, saying they were only made to pass the elections.

You have more than 10 metropolitan mayors, what have they achieved in Istanbul? In Ankara? In Izmir? Go ahead and prove what they have done, Erdogan said. I live in Istanbul and Ankara. I follow Izmir closely.

Apart from its strategic importance, Istanbul also has personal value for Erdogan. It was there that he was born and began his political career and continues to maintain a residence.

Erdogan’s mayoralty in Istanbul really propelled him to national prominence. Esen said. The claim that whoever wins Istanbul wins Turkey is not an exaggeration.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Company. Discovery. All rights reserved.

CNNs Gul Tuysuz in Istanbul contributed to this report




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