“Imamoğlu is a big bite, he sticks in your throat. We would choke you, we will choke you”
This is how main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu called out Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, who said that he could dismiss Istanbul Metropolitan Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu from his position once the appeals courts would upheal the sentence.
The CHP members in the parliament were chanting “victory” as İmamoğlu was invited to the party’s parliamentary group meeting on December 20, where Kılıçdaroğlu gave his speech, reiterating the importance of CHP’s İstanbul Mayor.
Turkey is set to hold one of its most critical elections in June 2023, which resembles like a referendum where the country will decide whether President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan should stay or go, with opposing parties defending different political regimes to rule the country. Political discussions are focused on presidential candidate of the opposition to run against Erdoğan.
After Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu was found guilty of insulting public officials and sentenced to more than two years in prison last week, widespread belief grew further that he will be the strongest candidate as Erdoğan’s main opponent.
However, İmamoğlu’s own party, Republican People’s Party (CHP) management wants to see their leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu as the President.
The CHP’s “Nation Alliance” partner İYİ Party which is one of the leading parties of the six-party opposition alliance formed against Erdoğan and his AKP, has reiterated their demand for a “candidate who can be elected,” emphasising that the election is not about the alliance or the CHP, but about Türkiye.
Any opposition against Kılıçdaroğlu?
While some political analysts argue against Kılıçdaroğlu, if Kılıçdaroğlu is to be a candidate, do you think there are any dissidents who would prefer Erdoğan to stay in his chair rather than voting for the CHP leader?
I do not think so; If there is, I don’t think it will be enough to affect the result.
As the illegal charge levelled against İmamoğlu, which, if proven, will disqualify him from holding or running for political office, including the presidency and his current Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality seat; the already complex calculations has been turned upside down.
It is possible to summarize the current state of complications in eight points:
1- Kılıçdaroğlu said in August 2021 that he believed that “mayors should continue their duties for one more term.” “The Table of Six” had not yet been established when he said that.
Among his justifications were that if İmamoğlu or Ankara Metropolitan Mayor Mansur Yavaş were nominated, they should resign from their posts, and the major cities that were won by the votes of millions of voters would be handed over to the AKP-MHP majority in the municipal councils.
Whether or not the political ban is imposed
2- This possibility is stronger than before. Among the political consequences of the İmamoğlu conviction, if upheld by the appeals courts, are the AKP’s capture of the vast population, budget, and opportunities of Istanbul.
3- Chairman of the Supreme Election Board, Muharrem Akkaya, reminded the Article 101 of the Constitution. He stated that if the appeals court upheld the conviction after İmamoğlu is elected president, the political ban would remain in effect and he would not be inaugurated.
In other words, if İmamoğlu is nominated, with or without the political ban, the opposition’s most strategic political asset, the administration of Istanbul, would be given to the AKP as a gift.
If İmamoğlu be the candidate
If İmamoğlu becomes the candidate of the opposition alliance, the appeal court does not uphold the sentence until election day, and İmamoğlu is elected, I do not think that the appeal court will pursue the upheaval. These are political cases, not legal ones; just like the cases of Osman Kavala, Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ.
Because, again, let’s be frank, no politician can take responsibility for the voters’ reactions that will arise in such a situation, and if they do, they might not carry such weight.
4- The court decision enhanced İmamoğlu’s sympathy in the eyes of the public, giving the impression that his political candidature chances have improved. The fact that İYİ Party leader Meral Akşener stood by İmamoğlu while Kılıçdaroğlu was on his trip to Germany, which was cancelled on the same day, added to this impression. On the other hand, the legal risk of İmamoğlu being nominated has increased: if he is nominated and then the political ban is upheld, CHP would lose both Istanbul Mayor and a strong candidate against Erdoğan.
There is also the HDP factor
5- Some commentators make the mistake of ignoring the Kurdish-issue-focused People’s Democratic Party (HDP) for some reason. There is still a possibility that HDP will nominate its own candidate. HDP’s statement that it will not vote for Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş reduces his chances, and there is also the question of the Ankara Metropolitan Municipality being given to the AKP as in Istanbul. It is known that the HDP is keen to see İmamoğlu or Kılıçdaroğlu being the opposition candidate; In that case, there is a possibility that they will not nominate a candidate.
6- All this highlights two of the four opposition candidates mentioned so far: Kılıçdaroğlu and Akşener, who always says “I don’t want it” when asked.
Let’s leave the Akşener surprise aside for now. The most serious objections to Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy came directly or indirectly from the İYİ Party. Therefore, the key here is Akşener.
Kılıçdaroğlu as President, Akşener as Vice President?
7- On the other hand, CHP’s Erdogan Toprak issued a warning that was not taken seriously enough.
“We cannot interfere in the internal affairs of other parties’ candidates; we respect their suggestions.” “Just as we expect respect from others,” he said. The addressee of these words was the IYI Party.
As a matter of fact, following Toprak, İYİ Party’s Aytun Çıray said “Kılıçdaroğlu is a person who can rule the state.”
But there is a condition that “the objective parameters will be seen when that day comes” in the Çıray’s sentence.
8- In fact, Kılıçdaroğlu can be considered the most suitable name for the president that the opposition described: someone who will not put himself forward, will compromise with his allies, will not be partisan, will act as if he is in the parliamentary system, and will be ready to leave politics at the end of his term. Since it will be difficult to change the constitution immediately, can a consensus be reached around Akşener’s model of being a vice-president with the function of prime minister ? This will depend on the acceptance of the other four leaders.
Election like a referendum
If the health condition of Temel Karamollaoğlu, the leader of the Felicity Party, allows, the Table of the Six will meet on December 26. At that meeting, it is expected that the roadmap for transitioning to the Strengthened Parliamentary System and the Common Principles Text, which will replace the government programme if they win the election, will be completed.
After the Imamoglu case, will the six leaders still insist on “not speaking for the candidacy” until the programs will be finalized?
Even though this delay is hard on the opposition, it is also hard on the AKP-MHP government because it makes it harder for them to come up with a plan based on the opposition’s candidate.
Although there is not yet a candidate from the opposition, the votes of the ruling party and the Table of the Six seem to be almost equal. If the opposition candidate is determined, it may even be possible for the election to end in the first round against Erdoğan, if there is a joint candidate.
Over time, the election started to look more and more like a referendum to decide whether Erdogan should stay or go.
That’s why I asked, “If Kılıçdaroğlu will be the candidate, is there any opposition who will say Erdogan should stay in the presidency?” Do you think there is?