İstanbul’s popular Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu from Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has said he will not stand as a presidential candidate in the 2023 elections.
İmamoğlu, who ended the years-long rule of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in İstanbul by defeating the party’s candidate twice in the 2019 local elections, is frequently cited among possible presidential candidates who will run against the incumbent, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in 2023.
“I am not a presidential candidate. … What I have in mind is to be the most successful mayor of İstanbul,” said İmamoğlu during a program on FOX TV on Tuesday.
The İstanbul mayor also hinted that CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and İYİ (Good) Party leader Meral Akşener, who formed the Nation Alliance before the 2018 general and presidential elections, may run for the top state post.
“There are two esteemed party leaders. They deserve every [important] position,” said İmamoğlu.
The İstanbul mayor is frequently subject of judicial harassment apparently because of his rising popularity. Most recently he faced a preliminary investigation from an Interior Ministry inspector on allegations he was disrespectful to the tomb of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror last year.
İmamoğlu was photographed clasping his hands behind his back during a visit to the tomb.
In the wake of public backlash, Turkey’s Interior Ministry announced on Monday that it is not allowing an investigation into İmamoğlu due to his tomb visit.
The ministry’s decision came following a controversial statement from the country’s interior minister, Süleyman Soylu, who said last week that İmamoğlu’s clasping his hands behind his back at the tomb was a “criminal act” in his view but that he would not allow an investigation into the mayor.
In March, İmamoğlu was ordered by a court to pay a fine of TL 7,080 ($930) for insulting a former governor in the Black Sea province of Ordu. İmamoğlu denied the charges and described the case as politically motivated.
The AKP, which launched a massive crackdown on non-loyalist citizens following a failed coup in 2016, is accused of taking the country’s judiciary under its control and giving orders to judges and prosecutors to punish its opponents and critics.