İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu suggested in an interview with the Financial Times (FT) published on Monday that he could be removed from office if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wins again in the presidential election slated for 2023.
The Turkish government has removed dozens of elected mayors from office in Kurdish-majority cities in the country’s Southeast.
İmamoğlu secured a victory for the Turkish opposition in 2019 as the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) mayoral candidate for İstanbul, ending 25 years of dominance by Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its political predecessors in Turkey’s largest city.
İmamoğlu defeated the ruling party nominee by a narrow margin and briefly became the new İstanbul mayor until the country’s election authority canceled the results on the grounds of alleged irregularities and announced a new election on June 23, which he won by a landslide.
The 52-year-old now faces prison as well as a possible political ban on charges of insulting election officials, in what he describes as a politically motivated trial.
“They have done many things that would never enter our minds, that we wouldn’t believe or that we would say would never happen,” İmamoğlu was quoted by FT as saying. “A system with the mentality that it can cancel an election can do anything.”
An opposition bloc of six parties pledged in late February to return the country to a parliamentary democracy and scrap the executive presidential system introduced by Erdoğan after a referendum in 2017 should they unseat him in the 2023 elections.
The leaders of the main opposition CHP, the Felicity Party (SP), the İYİ (Good) Party, the Future Party (GP), the Democrat Party (DP) and DEVA had signed a declaration confirming their resolve to introduce a “strengthened parliamentary system” if they manage to unseat Erdoğan.
The opposition blames Erdoğan’s one-man rule for Turkey’s woes, including an economic downturn and an erosion of rights and freedoms.
However, the opposition bloc has not yet named a presidential candidate.
While there is growing momentum behind CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, polls have consistently shown he is less popular than İmamoğlu and the mayor of Ankara, Mansur Yavaş, another CHP member.
The İstanbul mayor has publicly supported Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy but has not ruled himself out as a contender.
Opinion polls suggest Erdoğan’s popular support is at an all-time low.
However, they also indicate that some voters lack faith in the opposition.
In the interview with FT, İmamoğlu cautioned that Erdoğan would suffer a “huge defeat” at the hands of the electorate if he lost and sought to rerun the vote, as he had in İstanbul. “It is the 86 million people in this country who give the election [outcome] to the person who deserves it,” he was quoted as saying. “No one can obstruct this — Erdoğan included.”