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Political ban imposed on İstanbul mayor evokes memories of same ban faced by Erdoğan

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A prison sentence and a political ban imposed on İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu in a politically charged trial has brought to mind a similar prison sentence and political ban imposed on current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan when he was the mayor of İstanbul, leading to questions of whether İmamoğlu’s political fate could also take a similar path to that of Erdoğan.

İmamoğlu, from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and a key opponent of Erdoğan, was sentenced to two years, seven months in prison and barred him from politics for allegedly insulting members of Turkey’s Supreme Election Board (YSK).

In a similar development in 1998 Erdoğan, who gained national prominence after his election as mayor of İstanbul from the now-defunct Welfare Party (RP) in 1994, was forced out of office and banned from participating in politics following a conviction in for “inciting hatred” after publicly reciting a poem, for which he also served four months in prison.

Many said the conviction of Erdoğan for exercising his freedom of speech at the time was unjust and unlawful and brought tremendous public support to Erdoğan due to the “victimization” he was subjected to, hence opening up his political career. Now, some people say the same may be true for İmamoğlu since he is a potential candidate in next year’s presidential election and could defeat Erdoğan.

İYİ Party leader Meral Akşener, who joined a crowd in Saraçhane that had gathered to show support for İmamoğlu in the wake of the court decision, said: “Years ago, there was a mayor here who was convicted for reading a poem. He appealed to you and said, ‘This song does not end here.’ Now I promise you: This song will not end here, either.”

Akşener, whose party is part of the “Table of Six,” an alliance of opposition parties, supports the presidential candidacy of İmamoğlu.

The opposition bloc has not yet announced their candidate, while Erdoğan has already declared that he will be the presidential candidate of the “Public Alliance,” comprising his Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş also pointed to an analogy between the sentences and political bans imposed on İmamoğlu and Erdoğan years ago.

Demirtaş, whose Twitter account is managed by his lawyers, tweeted: “How many judicial ‘coups’ against the will of the people have there been? Every unlawful action will sooner or later boomerang after facing the will of the nation. It would be nice if you sent Mr. Ekrem to Pınarhisar Prison so he can share the same fate.”

Demirtaş was referring to the prison in northwestern province of Kırklareli where Erdoğan served a four-month sentence in 1999.

Demirtaş, who challenged Erdoğan in previous presidential elections, has been behind bars since November 2016 on politically motivated charges.

Louis Fishman, an assistant professor of Modern Middle East history at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, tweeted following the court decision on Wednesday that the AKP government, which has been in power for more than two decades, knows the power of a banned politician.

“Erdogan himself was banned. Thus the court ruling (seemingly influenced by gov) is a huge gamble for them,” Fishman said.

The Financial Times also said in a report about the conviction of İmamoğlu that İmamoğlu’s political fortunes sometimes appear to echo Erdoğan’s.

“The perception that Erdoğan was unjustly prosecuted galvanised voters four years later when his Islamist-rooted party easily won the general election. The ban on Erdoğan was subsequently lifted and he was allowed to enter parliament in a by-election to become prime minister,” the FT said.

“When a Turkish court jailed Istanbul mayor Erdogan in 1998, the sentence made him a political martyr, triggering a set of events that catapulted Erdogan to Turkey’s helm. Now with Erdogan on top, opposition Istanbul mayor Imamoglu is sent to jail. Oh, the tables have turned in Turkey,“ tweeted Soner Çağaptay, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, implying that a similar fate might be awaiting İmamoğlu in his political career.

After serving his sentence in 1999, Erdoğan and his colleagues established the AKP in 2001. The party came to power as a single-party government in the 2002 elections. Erdoğan was unable to assume the position of prime minister that year due to his political ban. He became prime minister in 2003, when the ban was lifted. He served as prime minister until 2014, when he was elected president for the first time. He was re-elected president in the 2018 presidential election.

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