Erdogan also sees a threat to his favourite building project in Istanbul, which may well be scrapped following an election victory by the opposition. In addition to the third bridge over the Bosphorus and the mega airport on the Black Sea – both very controversial undertakings – there will, if the AKPʹs plans are followed, soon be a fifty-kilometre long canal, which people are calling the "second Bosphorus". The AKP project, which Erdogan says will create thousands of new jobs, has been strongly criticised by environmental groups and city planners for years. 

A loss of social conscience

Ultimately, Imamogluʹs election victory was annulled by the electoral commission after he had spent just 17 days in office. The decision provoked anger in Istanbul, particularly among young people, who saw their hopes of a fresh political direction dashed. In a hail of international criticism, with the EU demanding an explanation, the former AKP prime minister and Erdogan ally Ahmet Davutoglu has also voiced criticism on Twitter: "The greatest loss for a political movement is not losing elections, but the loss of moral superiority and social conscience."

In the days after the local elections, the source of much of Imamogluʹs popularity was in evidence. Many Istanbul residents were excited by his constructive optimism; he didnʹt waste a minute on furious ripostes, as people are used to seeing from the Turkish president, for example. Instead, in keeping with the spirit of Ramadan, he called on the people of Istanbul to come together, and presented himself as a rational, calm candidate – qualities that are extremely well received in the current polarised climate of Turkish politics.

But who is Imamoglu? A native of Trabzon, he comes from the Black Sea region just as Erdogan does, is also a keen footballer, and, following a degree in business, he worked in the building industry. In 2009, the 49-year-old entered local politics, and in 2014 – still a relative newcomer to politics – he was elected district mayor of Beylikduzu, an area in the south east of Istanbul. Besides his good record in Beylikduzu, for many people Imamogluʹs appeal lies in his thoughtful and polite manner.

Social justice as a trademark

A speech by Imamoglu after he was removed from office in mid-May caused a furore: he spoke exclusively about social justice, and the rampant misuse of money and power by the elites. As temporary mayor, Imamoglu experienced (if only for a short while) the huge sums of money and disproportionate ostentation that was made available to him as holder of that office. "On 23 June, the system of extravagance will come to an end, and everything will be fine again," Imamoglu declared to the assembled press. His statement was also a clear objection to the huge, expensive building projects of the AKP.

Judging by the current mood in Istanbul society, many of the cityʹs residents are placing great significance on the second election, and one can expect a high turnout. The date, it is rumoured in Turkey, was chosen by the AKP specifically because it falls in a week when members of the CHP-voting demographics traditionally go on holiday to the coast. They are hoping that many voters will be in Bodrum, Antalya or Alanya rather than Istanbul.

The reactions from the Aegean coast – a traditional CHP heartland – came swiftly. The town council of Datca, for instance, a beach resort popular with people from Istanbul, announced the decision to close all the beaches on 23 June with the following words: "Due to expected simultaneous sand and snow storms, all our beaches are closed on 23 June! But we welcome you all on the 24th. Dear people of Istanbul, please go to the ballot boxes for your future."

In fact, Erdoganʹs insistence on a new election may not have paid off: polls currently predict a much clearer lead for Imamoglu than he had in the disputed results of 31 March. This is also due to long-time non-voters intending to vote for the CHP candidate following Imamogluʹs removal from office – for the sake of justice, as many say. Even many die-hard AKP supporters find their sense of fairness affronted by the governing party being such bad losers. This time, you often hear people say, the AKP has gone too far.

Marian Brehmer

© 2019

Translated from the German by Ruth Martin

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