Imamoglu: A New Hope For Turkish Democracy?

On the 6th of May, the High Election Council of Turkey decided to cancel the mayoral elections in Istanbul a month after they were held, claiming that they have been rigged. This meant that Ekrem Imamoglu, the newly elected mayor of Istanbul from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) lost his mandate and had to leave the office until the upcoming revote on the 23rd of June. Since then, Imamoglu and his team have been on a non-stop campaign tour of Turkey, meet and greeting the locals and once again making it clear that he is the right candidate for the mayoral seat of Istanbul. Now with the upcoming elections on Sunday, a lot is at stake for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) as they might lose Istanbul for good, and Turkey might have a new hope at a secular leader who, in the upcoming years, could end the AKP rule of 17 years.

In the picture: Imamoglu’s catchphrase “Everything will be beautiful”. Photo Credit: Ekrem Imamoglu Twitter

Istanbul: A Loss AKP Cannot Handle

The loss of Istanbul for President Erdogan’s AKP was more detrimental to its core and stability compared to the other cities they have equally had to give away. Leading up to the elections both AKP and their side support Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have used the term ‘beka’ (which roughly translates to survival) to highlight why it was crucial for the people to elect their candidate Binali Yildirim as the mayor of Istanbul in order not to lose key Turkish values. However, with 31% of the country’s expenses stemming from the city, there is clearly more to the survival aspect than just values. The Municipality of Istanbul has long been used as a hub for alleged corruption during AKP’s control over it with nepotistic projects as told by the court of accounts. It has been revealed that a total of 847.6 million liras have been ‘donated’ to foundations and charities ran by those close to the Erdogan family. These include the TUGVA foundation ran by Erdogan’s son in law, and the Ensar foundation which starred in a 2016 scandal of a teacher sexually abusing 45 male pupils. Therefore, there are two reasons why Erdogan’s government are very persistent on not losing Istanbul: to keep the public in the dark about the evasive and allegedly corrupted projects, and to remain in control over the most important city of Turkey. This reveals the real reason for the insistence on the concept of survival to be an economic and political one rather than protecting core Turkish values, the survival of AKP itself.

In the picture: Crowds gather to listen to Imamoglu. Photo Credit: Ekrem Imamoglu Twitter

The Kurdish Vote

One of the many reasons why Imamoglu could be the potential new leader of Turkey is the fact that he is aiming to not simply be the leader of the Turkish population in Turkey yet also develop relations with the Kurdish populations as previous CHP candidates had never done before. House defines leadership as behaviour that “gives purpose, meaning, and guidance to collectivities by articulating a collective vision that appeals to ideological values, motives, and self-perceptions of followers”. He further explains that what makes a leader good and worthy of following is his awareness of organisation values and emphasis on the self-interest of his followers for the best outcome for the collective.

Imamoglu, striving away from one of the core CHP values of ‘nationalism’, also got the majority of the Kurdish votes with the imprisoned Kurdish head of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) calling his supporters to leave daily political conflicts behind and strategize. Demirtas tweeted from his prison cell on the 18th of June that the people of Istanbul should vote not to further politically polarise or take revenge yet to ensure a bright future for the upcoming generations. Although this led to AKP poorly attempting to salvage relations with the Kurdish population, it is not hard to see through the disguise.

In the picture: Istanbul Photo Credit: Hurriyet Online

What comes out of the ballot on Sunday could change the future of Turkey. The mayor of Istanbul could either remain a political proxy controlled by the government, or the title could go to someone who genuinely sparks hope in not only the educated but all the seculars of Turkey. Perhaps, 4 years from now Ekrem Imamoglu will follow the footsteps of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and become the next President through being the mayor of Istanbul first. Regardless, with this election campaign, Turkey gained a new potential leader and a new hope for its democracy.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of – In the cover picture: Imamoglu with the crowd. Photo credit: Ekrem Imamoglu Twitter

About the Author /

Mina is an aspiring journalist interested in current global affairs, foreign policy, Turkey and the Middle East. She is a recent King's College London graduate and is starting an MA programme at SOAS upcoming September.

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