A Turkish court decision this month to sentence Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu to prison and bar him from politics for more than two years is proving unpopular. Critics say the ruling, handed down last Wednesday after the court convicted Imamoglu of insulting public officials, clearly favors President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party, known by the acronym AKP.
The decision came as Erdogan’s popularity remains low ahead of next year’s presidential contest. It signals a potentially intense campaign season ahead, with Erdogan playing to his conservative, religious base of supporters. Elections must take place by June 23.
Hundreds of people took to the streets to protest Imamoglu’s prison sentence and political ban. Former Erdogan ally and former Turkish President Abdullah Gul said, “The court’s decision is a great injustice not only against Ekrem Imamoglu but also against Turkey. The will of the people is above all. I believe that the higher courts will correct this mistake.”
Analysts say Imamoglu would clearly be among the strongest challengers to Erdogan’s bid for another term in office, even though the mayor has never announced his candidacy for the presidency. Imamoglu called the court’s decision a “disgrace for the Turkish judiciary,” saying it was “the firmest expression of the fact that the judiciary has been transformed into an instrument to punish dissidents.”
As a politician from Turkey’s main secular party, the Republican People’s Party, Imamoglu’s surprise victory in the 2019 Istanbul mayoral race was seen as the biggest blow to the AKP since Erdogan rose to power, first as Turkey’s prime minister, and then as its first president with strong executive powers.