Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) heavyweight and former deputy prime minister Bülent Arınç has said that the political ban imposed on Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu will increase the latter's popularity.
“Our President (Erdoğan) was also imprisoned, then became a national hero. Now he is the president. If you say 'we should impose a political ban on him (İmamoğlu)', if you say 'this is how they can be eliminated,' you will increase his popularity. You will never reach your goal,” Arınç told Habertürk TV channel on Jan. 19.
A Turkish court on Dec. 14 sentenced İmamoğlu, from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), to two years and seven months in prison on charges of “insulting” 11 members of Turkey's High Election Board (YSK). The court also imposed a political ban on İmamoğlu, which must be confirmed by an appeals court before application.
Erdoğan was sentenced to 10 months in prison in 1999 because of reciting a poem when was also Mayor of Istanbul. He was also imposed a political ban, preventing him from being elected as Prime Minister from the AKP in 2002 elections.
Arınç also recalled the second local election that was held for Istanbul in 2019, which increased İmamoğlu’s votes.
The YSK did not recognize İmamoğlu's initial victory in the 2019 local elections and ordered a repeat vote which the mayor won again with a greater difference against the ruling AKP’s candidate Binali Yıldırım.
“I begged them not to do this. İmamoğlu who won with a margin of 18,000 votes increased this margin to 850,000 votes,” Arınç said, commenting that the conviction will increase İmamoğlu’s popularity in a similar way.
Arınç did not reveal who he talked to on this matter back in 2019.
İmamoğlu is one of the figures targeted frequently by Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) ever since his decisive victory in the Istanbul elections in 2019. Infuriated by losing Turkey's largest city to the main opposition, the AKP has been making İmamoğlu face investigations on bogus charges.
Despite these attempts, İmamoğlu's job approval rate has been increasing while the AKP's votes have melted in Istanbul, according to various polls.
Arınç also said that the biggest problem that Erdoğan is facing ahead of elections is the economic turmoil.
“Mr. President has started to take measures in this regard. This increased confidence. If this trend continues like this, of course Erdoğan will win in the first round,” he added.
For December, the government-run Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK) reported an annual inflation rate of 64.27, whereas the independent inflation group ENAG put the figure at 137.55%.
Arınç also talked about the closure case against the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
“If the HDP is closed, it will not lose anything. Their backups are ready. Turkey can no longer afford it. It's not because I love or defend HDP. However, I think it will not be beneficial (to close) in terms of political consequences,” he stated.