CHP leader Özel and Istanbul Mayor İmamoğlu hold first local election rally

Turkey’s main opposition CHP leader Özgür Özel and Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu held their first local election rally in the megacity. Özel said they would not allow the ruling AKP’s candidate Murat Kurum to be “the disaster of Istanbul,” who was “responsible” for the recently happened Çöpler Gold Mine disaster. Kurum was the previous environment minister until 2023.

Photo: CHP

Duvar English

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Özgür Özel and Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, who is re-running for the post, on Feb. 22 held their first local election rally in the megacity’s Sultangazi district.

The rally also saw the attendance of CHP’s Sultangazi district mayoral candidate Ferhat Epözdemir. Abdurrahman Dursun, from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), won in the district in 2019 with 58 percent of the votes.

Özel, who assumed the CHP leadership in November, criticized AKP’s Istanbul mayoral candidate Murat Kurum over his “responsibility” in the Çöpler Gold Mine disaster. 

“Murat Kurum's signature (for the capacity expansion of the Çöpler Gold Mine) in his previous position is obvious. We said 'There is cyanide in İliç district, there is environmental massacre. It will cause great harm to the health of humanity, the health of babies, it will cause mothers to have miscarriages or give birth to disabled children.' They didn't listen. He signed it,” Özel said.

“Later, the mine increased 4-5 times its size. On the one hand, the company was hoarding the money, on the other hand, the soil was hoarded somewhere, the workers said, 'this mountain will take us all one day', and that mountain took 9 of our lives. Now Murat Kurum says, 'Does this have anything to do with the Environmental Impact Assessment (ÇED) report? You signed that, you are responsible for the disaster,” he added.

The cyanide-laden waste soil heap weighing millions of tons collapsed at the mine on Feb. 13, trapping nine workers and exposing toxic chemicals and cyanide to the environment. 

Kurum was criticized for approving the three-fold capacity increase plans for the gold mine when he was the environment minister. He argued that the ministry did not have the authority to make a decision, but could only assess the environmental impact of such an increase.

Özgür Özel said they would not allow Murat Kurum to be “the disaster of Istanbul,” as well.

After Özel, İmamoğlu took the stage and vowed to increase the scholarship given to university students from 7,500 liras to 15,000 liras.

“We have worked hard to bring social justice to Istanbul. We have worked hard to develop policies and services to meet your needs. We spread equal service to 39 districts of our city. We ran to the needs of all our citizens who were neglected by those who sank the economy, those who increased the exchange rate and inflation,” he said. 

İmamoğlu said they were not discriminating against any party members when distributing services. 

“What did I say in 2019? I said I would uproot partisanship from this city, we have uprooted it. What do they say? They equate voting with service. They say if you vote, service will come,” he said, criticizing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who recently told Hatay citizens that they needed to vote for the AKP “if they wished to receive services.”

“Do you know what you will vote for in this election? You will either vote for the one who discriminates or the one who unites. You will not vote for the one who separates you. You will not vote for those who polarize you, those who unfortunately pit people against each other over whether they voted or not,” İmamoğlu added.

He also criticized Kurum for promising to build 650,000 new buildings as part of the expected major earthquake preparation. “Do you know how many houses TOKİ, under their management, built in Istanbul in 21 years, from 2002 to 2023? 98,000. Out of 98,000 houses, they have only delivered 60,000. In 21 years, you built 60,000 thousand houses, but you are lying about building 650,000 houses in five years for votes, and you are lying about the most important issue to protect the lives of the people.”

“You will elect those who take instructions from the nation. Not those (Murat Kurum) who take instructions from one person (Erdoğan). You will elect the one who says whatever the nation says is what happens. You will elect those who deal with the nation's problems, not those who are running to start the Kanal Istanbul project,” İmamoğlu concluded.

52 candidates will run for Istanbul mayorship in the local elections to be held on March 31. Among the pool of candidates, the race is expected to be neck and neck between İmamoğlu and Kurum.

The local elections are the first test of Özgür Özel as the new CHP leader.