Erdogan’s Obsession Is To Recapture Istanbul In Turkey Election

Recapturing Istanbul, the “jewel” of Turkey, in Sunday’s local elections has become President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s obsession ever since losing the country’s economic capital to the opposition in 2019.

Erdogan’s route to Turkey’s presidency was launched in Istanbul, where he was elected mayor in 1994, and his allies held the city until Ekrem Imamoglu of the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) wrested control five years ago.

As soon as he clinched re-election as president last May, Erdogan launched the campaign to reclaim the city of 16 million people.

“Are we ready to win back Istanbul?” he asked an enthusiastic crowd while perched on a bus in front of his residence.

With two days to go before the vote, avenging the loss of Istanbul appears to be the most important issue for Erdogan’s party.

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“Istanbul is the jewel, the treasure and the apple of our country’s eye,” he said at a rally in the city a week before the elections.

Erman Bakirci, a pollster from Konda Research and Consultancy, summarised the importance of the city with the saying that “winter doesn’t come to Turkey until it snows in Istanbul”.

Bakirci also recalled Erdogan once saying: “Whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey.”

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The Turkish president named former environment minister Murat Kurum as his mayoral candidate, entrusting him to reconquer Istanbul and consolidate his power.

According to the latest polls, however, Imamoglu has a slight lead.

Imamoglu edged out an Erdogan ally in the 2019 election that gained international headlines for being controversially annulled.

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He won the re-run vote by an even greater margin, turning him into an instant hero for the opposition and a formidable foe for Erdogan.

Without ever saying his name, Erdogan, who is omnipresent on Turkey’s television screens, regularly launches jabs at the mayor.

Erdogan calls him a “part-time mayor” consumed by his presidential ambitions.

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Many observers say Imamoglu’s re-election on Sunday could bolster his standing ahead of the next presidential elections in 2028, when he is widely expected to run.

Berk Esen, an associate professor at Sabanci University in Istanbul, told AFP that Imamoglu “can meet thousands of voters on a daily basis” while on the campaign trail and put himself “in the headlines”.

By winning Istanbul, he said, “Erdogan really hopes to end that”.


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