Turkey’s Pro-Kurdish Party Enters Istanbul Mayor’s Race

Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party on Friday selected two low-profile candidates to run for mayor of Istanbul after the wife of the repressed community’s jailed elder statesman dropped out of the March 31 vote.

Analysts believe the DEM Party’s decision not to field a more prominent candidate might peel fewer votes away from the current opposition mayor and hurt President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s chances of winning back control of Turkey’s biggest city.

Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted AKP party enters the nationwide municipal polls buoyed by a strong showing in last year’s general election.

The veteran leader secured victory to a final five-year term and ensured that his ruling conservative alliance retained control of parliament.

Erdogan then set his sights on winning back Istanbul — an economic powerhouse where he began his political career as mayor — from arch secular opposition rival Ekrem Imamoglu.

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The current Istanbul mayor won in 2019 thanks in part to the pro-Kurdish party’s decision to stay out of race and implicitly support the joint opposition candidate.

Kurds represent an important share of Istanbul’s voters and also helped secular leaders win in the Aegean coast city of Izmir in 2019.

But last year’s poor general election showing fractured the opposition and prompted the DEM Party to run its own candidates in the local polls.

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The DEM Party on Friday named Murat Cepni and Meral Danis Bestas as its joint Istanbul mayoral candidates — a reflection of leftist party’s tradition of naming a man and a woman as co-chairs of top posts.

The party would need to decide which of them would serve as mayor should the joint ticket win.

Their names were announced less than a week after Basak Demirtas — the 47-year-old wife of the jailed Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas — unexpectedly dropped out of contention.

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Analysts viewed Basak Demirtas as the Kurds’ strongest candidate and the one most likely to take votes away from Imamoglu.

Selahattin Demirtas picked up nearly 10 percent of the vote when he challenged Erdogan in Turkey’s 2014 and 2018 presidential elections.

He ran his second campaign from jail because of highly controversial terror-related charges that could keep him behind bars for life.

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His social media comments resonate across Turkish society and his wife’s candidacy posed a problem for Imamoglu’s hopes of securing re-election and then using Istanbul as a springboard for a likely run for president in 2028.

Some Turkish media speculated that Imamoglu’s team put pressure on the DEM Party to run a less popular candidate in return for various political concessions.

BBC Turkce this week cited a senior source close to Imamoglu as saying “it was natural” for the mayor to conduct negotiations that could help him win next month.


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