Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (İBB) Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu on Aug. 15 held a press conference at the Haliç Congress Centre and announced that he would run again for the mayoral elections to be held on 31 March 2024.
Following the failure of the general and presidential elections in May, İmamoğlu launched a campaign for a “change” in the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). Many expected that he would announce his bid for election as the party’s chair at the CHP convention.
“The winner of Istanbul wins Turkey. A mayor who wins Istanbul has the chance to serve the best city in the world,” after he asked citizens to support him in the local elections.
“Throughout my life, I have been a candidate not for a seat but for a mission. Today, that mission is to bring Turkey to a new understanding of governance,” the mayor added.
After the CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu lost the presidential elections, he started to receive serious criticism from İmamoğlu. In fact, a severe tension came to the surface with the leak of İmamoğlu's online meeting with the party's senior staff.
The mayor again criticized Kılıçdaroğlu's opstimistic statements about the elections, “The CHP cannot boast of being the second party. In the coming elections, we must win not only the mayorships but also the municipal councils.”
“I must state clearly that the change and transformation of my party is an important mission of my political life,” he added. İmamoğlu stated that the CHP has been transformed into a party of "small powers" and that local party cadres with a "clean past" are ready to pave a new path for the party.
İmamoğlu also stated that he would try to establish a “non-partisan Istanbul alliance” for the local elections as they did during the 2019 elections. İmamoğlu received 54.22% of the vote against his rival from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) after he garnered votes of a large opposition bloc including Kurdish voters.
Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and its backup Green Left Party’s (YSP) strategy for the next local elections has not been clear yet as they did not hold the party congresses. As a political movement that influences Kurdish voters, their decision will be effective in the votes that İmamoğlu will garner.
Answering the questions of journalists, İmamoğlu said, "I still think that Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu should prepare the renewal of our party with all its cadres by leading the process of change and transformation." At the same time, he also pointed to the name of party group leader Özgür Özel for the nomination for leadership.
As an interesting turn, he also stated that he is not a "candidate" but he is "hitting the road again for Istanbul."
Özel says İmamoglu's decision will be good for Istanbul and Turkey
Explaining his evaluations of İmamoğlu's statements to Gazete Duvar, Özel said, "I welcome Mr. İmamoğlu’s decision very positively. Istanbulites were the most happy with this decision, but we are all pleased with this decision. It will be good for Istanbul in the short term and Turkey in the long term."
Özel also commented on mentioning his name by İmamoğlu, "I see his words as a delivery of the right only on my own behalf but also on behalf of all young friends who know the history of the party.”
First response from opposition parties to İmamoglu's call
Commenting on İmamoğlu's call, HDP Deputy Co-Chair in charge of Electoral Affairs Emirali Türkmen said, "It would be wrong to create a future-oriented tendency without making a healthy evaluation of the past elections. Therefore, I believe that it is also wrong to discuss the issue of alliances today."
Türkmen stated that they discussed the issue of alliances during the meetings with the voters held throughout the summer, and added that the new party administration to be elected at the congress will make the final decision on this issue.
Felicity Party Group Deputy Chair and MP Bülent Kaya also stated that the opposition could stand up again with the local elections. “We are open to any dialogue that will serve this purpose. We think it is too early to talk specifically about candidates and constituencies today,” he added.
DEVA Party Spokesperson and MP İdris Şahin criticized İmamoğlu for refusing to accept announcing his candidacy even though he explicitly said, “I am hitting the road for Istanbul.” Şahin also stated that İmamoğlu pointed to the alliance in 2019 as an example, a period in which the DEVA did not exist. “As the party, it would not be right for us to discuss such issues with the mayoral candidates. If we want to discuss these issues, we will discuss them with the authorized body of the CHP and Kılıçdaroğlu,” he added.
Felicity Party Group Chair and one of the founders of the Future Party Selçuk Özdağ stated that they are open to talks and co-operate for the local elections.
The CHP congress is expected to be organized towards the end of 2023 after the delegate elections in local branches are completed.
In Istanbul, delegate elections have been held in 17 districts so far and the elections in the remaining 22 districts will be completed by Sep. 3. Those close to the current party administration seem to be ahead of the "those for the change" in the race.