Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that the opposition candidate for Istanbul mayoralty will be barred from taking office if found guilty of insulting a provincial governor, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
Earlier this month, main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) mayoral candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, got into a row with officials at Ordu airport after being refused entry into the VIP lounge, Turkish media reported.
Supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) claimed that Imamoglu called Seddar Yavuz, the governor of Black Sea province of Ordu, a “dog” during a heated exchange with airport officials. Imamoglu has denied the allegations, claiming that he used another word that sounded similar.
Erdogan vowed that Imamoglu will face the consequences of allegedly insulting Yavuz, and stated on a radio show on Wednesday that Yavuz is taking the matter to court.
“I cannot know right now what decision the judiciary will make. But the decision by the judiciary could block (Imamoglu’s) path in this (election),” Erdogan said.
CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu commented on the issue on Wednesday, saying, “This is a plot [against Imamoglu] to pull the arguments on this issue to another level. He [Yavuz] is not the governor of the state, but rather of the ruling party, and that is how this should be seen.”
Erdogan argued that Imamoglu will not serve as Istanbul mayor unless he apologizes for the alleged insult, but Kilicdaroglu counter-argued that Istanbul’s mayor will be elected by the people, not appointed by Erdogan.
Erdogan is intensifying pressure on Imamoglu just days before the June 23 rerun, after Imamoglu narrowly beat the AKP candidate, Binali Yildirim, in the March polls after receiving some 13,000 more votes than his rival, who is also Turkey’s former prime minister.
The CHP candidate’s victory was annulled after less than a month in office due to appeals submitted to the election commission by the ruling AKP, which cited allegations of voting irregularities, and the rerun was scheduled for June 23.
The ruling of Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) to rerun the mayoral
polls in Istanbul has drawn international ire and has been interpreted by critics
as a sign of the country’s gradually dismantling democracy.
The decision also unnerved financial markets and has thrown a spotlight on the AKP government’s management of Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city and commercial hub, during its 17 years in power.
Losing major cities, including Turkey’s business center – Istanbul – and the capital of Ankara, on March 31, was one of the worst setbacks for Erdogan and his AKP government since it came into power in 2002.
Erdogan blamed Imamoglu for cooperating with the movement of Fethullah Gulen, the US-based cleric accused by Ankara of orchestrating a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
The Gulen movement is regarded as a terrorist organization by the Turkish government and some 33,000 actual and alleged members of the group have been imprisoned on terror charges.
Turkey’s opposition also accused the YSK of being a tool of the ruling party.