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Turkey: Imamoglu launches re-election campaign for Istanbul mayor

Senior CHP politician hopes to secure another term after opposition's crushing defeat in May's presidential election
Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, from the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), speaks to supporters in Istanbul, Turkey, on 27 May 2023 (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu appeared to launch his re-election campaign on Tuesday, promising to unite the opposition and retain the influential and politically coveted municipality, which serves 16 million people.

"I'm on my way to defend Istanbul once again," Imamoglu said at a press conference in the Turkish city of Istanbul.

"I'm on my way to create a prosperous city. I'm on my way to host all the technological innovations of the world.

"I consider serving this holy city to which I dedicate my life and 16 million citizens at the highest level as serving Turkey and presenting an alternative Turkey vision," he added.

Later, the 53-year-old told journalists that he hadn't formally announced his mayoral candidacy, as he still needed his Republican People's Party (CHP) to officially re-nominate him. 

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Imamoglu's remarks come less than three months after the opposition failed to unseat Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan comfortably won the May presidential elections with more than 52 percent of the vote after a poor showing from the leader of the CHP, Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

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Despite forcing Erdogan to a second-round vote, Kilicdaroglu's loss has further divided the opposition after they failed to capitalise on the cost of living crisis and rampant inflation.

After the vote, Imamoglu indirectly called for Kilicdaroglu's resignation and said the party needed to change if it wanted to mount a serious challenge at next year's mayoral election.

However, Kilicdaroglu, 74, has refused to step aside and maintains he will anchor "the ship" - at least until the March elections. 

"Lamentably, we have lost three consecutive elections in nine years, including the presidential election," Imamoglu said in June.

"We cannot afford to repeat the same mistakes and succumb to negligence. The CHP stands as the most significant political party in the history of the republic."

'Political ban'

Following Tuesday's announcement, hopes of Imamoglu challenging Kilicdaroglu appear to have evaporated. 

The Istanbul mayor is considered to be markedly more popular and charismatic than Kilicdaroglu, and this has reportedly created tensions between the two. 

It's unclear what the remaining leaders of the so-called "Table of Six" opposition alliance will do and how the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP) will react to the announcement - considering their decision not to field a candidate in 2019, which helped Imamoglu's then-victory. 

Imamoglu is currently appealing a two-year prison sentence and "political ban" stemming from comments he made in 2019 following mayoral elections that year.

The results of that election were overturned after claims were made about voting irregularities by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

New elections were called, which saw groundswell support for Imamoglu, with many new voters rallying behind the opposition leader.

"Those who cancelled the 31 March election are idiots," he told reporters at the time.

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