ANKARA: Istanbul mayor and Turkish opposition figure Ekrem Imamoglu faces jail time following months-long investigative campaign by authorities fearing his growing popularity is a threat for their power.
As a young and ambitious political actor trying to bridge the divisions, Imamoglu spread a message of unity in the Turkish capital based on his campaign slogan, “Everything is going to be big”.
In early May, he faced investigation for “disrespectful” behavior during a visit to the shrine of an Ottoman Sultan, where he was photographed with his hands crossed behind his back.
Another inquiry examined its opposition to the government Kanal Istanbul megaproject, a man-made waterway project connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. Istanbul’s mayor has warned that the project will only benefit a handful of people and businesses.
Today, Turkish prosecutors are calling for a four-year prison sentence for Imamoglu for allegedly insulting election authorities in a speech he gave after the cancellation of the first round of local elections in March 2019.
In his speech, he claimed the cancellation had damaged Turkey’s international prestige, calling the move irrational.
Voters eventually went to the polls in June of the same year for the re-launch of the vote after the cancellation, which was prompted by allegations of fraud by the ruling Justice and Development Party.
The new Imamoglu case has been accepted by an Istanbul court and is pending review.
Istanbul Koc University political scientist Professor Murat Somer said the anti-Imamoglu campaign represents “unconstitutional attempts by the ruling authoritarian bloc” to “stay in power through undemocratic means”, which have escalated. in a context of declining public support.
“What is even more damaging for the government is that the opposition has grown stronger by uniting in electoral alliances and in an emerging ‘democratic bloc’,” he said.
In response, the ruling coalition “has stepped up its efforts to use oppression and fear politics to stay in power, as it did in the past when it lost majority support,” a- he added.
According to the latest polls, Imamoglu, who has ruled Turkey’s largest city since June 2019, remains the strongest potential candidate against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the elections scheduled for 2023.
Somer said the investigations and trials should be seen as part of a broader authoritarian campaign by the authorities, which includes government-endorsed mob violence against opposition party leaders, unconstitutional protest bans, the impeachment and illegal replacement of elected mayors by government-appointed administrators; and numerous court cases and jail of critics.
“These growing attempts at oppression seem clearly linked to recent investigations. In addition, they may be aimed at suppressing the growing internal conflicts within the authoritarian bloc, which were recently posted by testimony on YouTube from a government-linked mafia boss, ”he said.
However, Somer added that the strategy could backfire, as it creates an image of weakness and hopelessness in the government in the eyes of critics, as well as supporters.
“If the opposition acts in unity, remains committed to democracy and the law, and continues to forge an image of a promising reformist alternative, public pressure for an early election may mount and the prospects for change may rise. power can increase, ”he said.
Canan Kaftancioglu, Istanbul president of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and close ally of Imamoglu, has also been charged with “terrorist propaganda” and “provoking public hatred” for more than two years. She now faces a potential prison sentence of almost 10 years.
Howard Eissenstat, associate professor of Middle Eastern history at St. Lawrence University, said harassment of lawsuits against opposition figures has become a “sad constant” in Turkish politics in recent years.
“Some of this is centrally planned, while others, I guess, come from individual prosecutors trying to demonstrate their loyalty to the government,” he told Arab News.
Eissenstat added that Imamoglu’s prosecution “is part of a larger whole” in which the government uses its control of the judiciary to harass and silence the opposition.
“So far the real target for this has been the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, but this new investigation is part of a growing pressure campaign against the CHP.”