Istanbul mayor faces prison sentence for slander

Tensions between Erdogan and Istanbul's mayor reignite

photo_camera AFP/SERVICIO DE PRENSA PRESIDENCIAL TURCO - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greeting Ekrem Imamoglu, mayor of Istanbul for the Republican People's Party of Turkey (CHP) in 2019.

In Turkey, the rivalry between Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the opposition mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, has been reignited. In the country founded by Mustafa Kemal Atat眉rk, where any issue can become polarising in a matter of seconds, such disputes fit perfectly with the relationship between the government and the opposition.

His opposition has cost him the acceptance by a Turkish court of an indictment seeking more than four years' imprisonment against the mayor of Istanbul for statements deemed insulting to senior officials. A prison sentence of four years and one month for describing as "idiotic" the decision of the members of the High Electoral Council to invalidate the result of the municipal elections of 31 March 2019 in which he emerged as the winner. 

AFP/OZAN KOSE  -   El alcalde de Estambul, Ekrem Imamoglu, habla durante una entrevista, en medio de la propagaci贸n de la epidemia del coronavirus COVID-19

Ekrem Imamoglu, mayor of Istanbul and perhaps the most charismatic face of the opposition to the president's Justice and Development Party (AKP). His pronouncement is nothing new: municipalities controlled by the opposition party - the social-democratic Republican People's Party (CHP) - have repeatedly accused the central government of hindering health and economic management of the crisis. Istanbul's mayor is regularly the subject of administrative or judicial investigations, most recently in early May for 'disrespectful' behaviour when he put his hands behind his back during a visit to a sultan's mausoleum.

A year ago, centrist opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu (CHP) won the Istanbul mayoral election, barely a month and a half after the Election Commission ordered a rerun of the municipal elections in the country's economic capital, where the opposition had prevailed over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party. Beyond Turkey's two largest cities, the opposition coalition won a large representation in large parts of the Mediterranean coast, such as Antalya and Mersin. The social-democratic opposition has thus won in Istanbul, putting an end to 25 years of rule by Islamist parties, initiated by the current president. 

PHOTO/Oficina del Alcalde de Estambul v铆a AP - El alcalde Ekrem Imamoglu habla a los trabajadores que preparan paquetes de comida para los que lo necesitan en medio del brote de coronavirus, en Estambul

This victory was possible because, for the first time, nationalist, liberal and minority parties managed to work together effectively. However, the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic crisis have opened up new fissures in the Turkish opposition, while government repression of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) continues to escalate. 

This domestic manoeuvre serves Recep Tayyip Erdogan to divert attention from the serious problems he is facing, such as the loss of confidence and the country's national economic crisis, exacerbated by the sharp fall in the Turkish lira and the standstill in activity generated by the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis.

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu already confronted Erdogan at the end of April over the issue of the fight against the COVID-19 disease. Imamoglu criticised the government's handling of the issue, accusing the country's leader of failing to provide detailed information to municipalities and hindering the health and economic management of the crisis. 

AFP/ADEM ALTAN - El Presidente del Partido Popular Republicano (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu

However, this scandal is not the only one the Turkish government has to deal with. Allegations of corruption by the opposition CHP party have triggered a publicity campaign demanding to know the whereabouts of 128 billion dollars. This large sum of money was allegedly used during the tenure of former finance minister Berak Albayrak, the son-in-law of President Tayyip Erdogan. According to the CHP, millions of dollars of foreign reserves were used to stabilise the Turkish lira, although it has continued to plummet and lose value.

The authorities' response has not deterred the opposition, which has continued its social media protest campaign. The background to this protest is the dismissal of Naci Agbal, the former head of the Central Bank. Following this dismissal, the CHP called for a parliamentary investigation into Agbal's dismissal amid rumours of profiteering and corruption.

Erdogan continues to see his image and that of his party slipping in the eyes of the public. Faced with this loss of support, he is waging a tough campaign of persecution against political rivals. This domestic manoeuvre serves Recep Tayyip Erdogan to divert attention from the serious problems he is facing, such as the loss of confidence and the national economic crisis the country is going through, aggravated by the sharp fall of the Turkish lira and the standstill in activity generated by the current COVID-19 health crisis.

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