Nikolaos Stelgias

Nikolaos Stelgias

International press: The political future of Erdogan's nemesis in jeopardy

"Turkey's main opposition, which depends on Kurdish support, targeted by the ruling coalition"

A new conviction puts Turkish president's arch-rival in peril, reports the foreign press. Recep Tayyip Erdogan's campaign in the next presidential elections is boosted by the possibility of removing Ekrem Imamoglu from the spotlight of Turkish politics.

The latest political thriller that has been playing out in Turkey since Wednesday night is being covered by the international press. Imamoglu's punishment is linked to the impending elections, according to foreign analysts. In their opinion, the opposition front in the upcoming elections will be weakened in case that conviction is finalized. The international media provides extensive reports and analyses about this possibility.

In contrast to a significant portion of the Turkish press, the international media also emphasizes a crucial element of the latest political thriller from Turkey. Recent events show that Turkey's main opposition, which depends on Kurdish support to win the upcoming elections, has also become the latest target of the country's legal system. Many Kurdish politicians and activists have been already imprisoned recently because of Turkey's increasing wave of persecution of opposition politicians.

The election link

"A Turkish court on Wednesday sentenced Istanbul’s popular mayor, a political rival of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to over two years in prison on the charge of 'insulting public figures', a verdict that underscored concerns that opposition figures will be prevented from fairly competing in upcoming elections," broadcasts "The Washington Post."

According to the American newspaper, "recent polls have shown that Imamoglu is among a small group of opposition figures who could defeat Erdogan in a consequential presidential election in June. Erdogan’s popularity has been dented by his management of the economy, which has suffered from skyrocketing inflation, rising unemployment, and the collapse of the local currency."

The British newspaper "The Independent" shares the view of "The Washington Post" regarding the link between Imamoglu's conviction and the upcoming elections in Turkey. "Ekrem Imamoglu, a leading figure of the opposition People's Republican Party (CHP) and a popular politician who consistently polls higher than Erdogan, was convicted on a charge of insulting election officials during his contentious 2019 election campaign. The political ban, which would take effect after the appeals process is exhausted, could effectively neutralize Erdogan's most popular rival ahead of the crucial June 2023 presidential elections. The incumbent has been polling poorly because of the dire state of Turkey’s economy," the newspaper stresses.

In the same vein, "Bne Intellinews" reported that "Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, a politician whom polls have shown would likely dislodge Turkish autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdogan from the presidency should he be nominated to run against him in the 2023 Turkish elections, was on December 14 sentenced to more than two-and-a-half years in prison for insulting public officials in a speech with the word “fools.” His conviction, which will have to be confirmed by an appeals court, would disqualify him from taking part in the elections."

For the British newspaper "The Guardian," "The verdict represents the latest step in a crackdown on key figures from the CHP, Erdogan's main challenger in the vote, which is expected within six months. Earlier this year, Canan Kaftancıoğlu, the head of the CHP's Istanbul branch, was banned from politics and given a suspended five-year prison sentence on charges of insulting the Republic of Turkey and Erdogan in tweets accusing him of theft."

Imamoglu's political future

For "The Washington Post," Imamoglu's political career is far from over since "Turkey’s recent political history has shown that court convictions are not necessarily a bar to higher office." The newspaper reminds us that "Erdogan, who served as Istanbul mayor in the 1990s, was later stripped of his post, banned from office, and imprisoned after a court ruled that a poem he recited during a speech had incited religious hatred. The court decision was widely seen as an attempt to curb Erdogan’s rising popularity."

Following the same logic, the "Financial Times" stresses that "Imamoglu's political fortunes sometimes appear to echo Erdogan's. Turkey’s leader rose to national prominence after his election as Istanbul mayor in 1994. He was forced out of office and banned from participating in politics following a conviction in 1998 for 'inciting hatred' after publicly reciting a poem, for which he served four months in prison. The perception that Erdogan was unjustly prosecuted galvanized voters four years later when his Islamist-rooted party easily won the general election."

Did you say, “independent Turkish judiciary?”

Broadcasting the developments concerning the mayor of the largest city in Turkey and the Balkans, "The Independent" also focuses on the problematic image emitted by the modern Turkish judiciary.

According to the newspaper, "Critics in Turkey and abroad have accused Erdogan and his allies of packing Turkey’s courts with AKP loyalists and using the judiciary as a political weapon." and "An October 2022 report by the European Union said the 'judiciary continued to systematically target members of the opposition parties in parliament' and described a 'systemic lack of independence of the judiciary and undue pressure on judges and prosecutors.'"

Sharing the above view, the "Human Rights Watch" on Thursday published an online communication in which it stressed that "The conviction of Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu and the ban on him holding elected political office imposed based on a comment to the media should be seen for the violation of rights that it is and as an unjustified and politically calculated assault on Turkey's political opposition in the run-up to 2023 elections. The decision by an Istanbul court violates Mayor İmamoglu's rights to free speech and political association. It interferes with the right of millions of voters in Istanbul to elect a mayor of their choosing as their political representative."

The Kurdish and financial dimensions

"The sidelining of Imamoglu might prove useful in opening up a path to an election victory for Erdogan. Another handy development for the Erdogan camp would be the derailing of the prospect of the leftwing pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) becoming kingmakers." added to its coverage for Imamoglu's case, the "Bne Intellinews". For the news site, the Turkish government has recently pressured the Turkish opposition, starting with a frontal attack on the Kurds.

The HDP adds the "Bne Intellinews," "could be decisive in wrestling power from Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) by backing the opposition bloc. HDP claimed 6mn or more voters in the last elections, amounting to around 12% of the electorate."

The "Bne Intellinews" also underlines that "right now, in an Ankara court, 108 opposition politicians are on trial for terrorism offenses. If found guilty, hundreds of HDP members could be banned from politics. That could pave the way to the party being outlawed in a separate case taking place at Turkey’s top court."

On this crucial aspect of the Imamoglu Affair, the American ABC network noted, "Critics alleged the mayor's trial was an attempt to eliminate a key opponent of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After the 2019 elections, several mayors from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, were removed from office over alleged links to Kurdish militants and replaced by state-appointed trustees. Dozens of HDP lawmakers and thousands of party members were arrested on terror-related accusations as part of a government crackdown on the party."

For the same subject, "The Guardian" reminds us of the fact that "In January, a court is due to decide whether to ban the majority-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) from politics."

Regarding the economic impact of the Imamoglu Affair on the Turkish economy, it should be underlined that in the last hours, "Bloomberg" reported that investors sold Turkish assets after the court’s Imamoglu decision. The benchmark Borsa Istanbul 100 index closed 3.6% lower on Wednesday. The Turkish lira fell 0.2% against the dollar, and five-year credit default swaps (CDS) on Turkey's debt rose to 508 basis points, making the biggest jump in more than a week.

*Dr Nikolaos Stelgias was born in Istanbul. He is an independent researcher, writer, historian and journalist. His doctorate is in the field of the modern Turkish political system (Panteion University, 2011). His latest book “The Ailing Turkish Democracy” was published by the Cambridge Scholars Publication in 2020. Dr. Stelgias was a correspondent of the newspaper "Kathimerini (Cyprus edition)" for Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community from 2009 to 2021. Currently, Dr. Stelgias works at the Cyprus News Agency. Dr. Stelgias publishes in Turkish news articles and analyses on Cyprus and Greece.

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