Turkey’s ex-premier squares up for Istanbul election battle

ISTANBUL: If former Turkish prime minister Binali Yildirim wants a reminder of how much he needs to win as Istanbul mayor in this month’s election, he just has to listen to his boss.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who started his own political career as Istanbul mayor, likes to tell his Justice and Development Party (AKP) that winning the country’s economic hub is like winning Turkey itself.
Picking a well-known name and ruling party heavyweight like Yildirim for mayor shows how key Istanbul remains for Erdogan. The Turkish leader has been campaigning hard around Turkey, often in Istanbul, to drum up support for the AKP before the March 31 municipal election.
Even though Yildirim is the favourite, the stakes are high: Turkey’s economy is in recession and a lira currency crisis and double-digit inflation are threatening to undermine some AKP support at the ballot box.
“We should not underestimate the Istanbul mayor office. Look at Chirac,” Yildirim said referring to Jacques Chirac, the late French president who was mayor of Paris from 1977-95 in between two stints as prime minister.
The vote in Istanbul, with a population of 15 million out of Turkey’s 80 million, will be a major test for Erdogan’s party to consolidate its power. Istanbul is seen as a political bellwether with its mixed population of secular and conservative Turks as well as Kurds.
In the 2017 referendum on the new executive presidential system that concentrated powers under the Turkish leader, Istanbul narrowly voted against Erdogan’s plan.
“Istanbul is a country on its own,” he said.

‘Only one captain’
Erdogan is actively touring for the AKP even though he is not standing for election. In Istanbul alone, he has held over a dozen rallies in several neighbourhoods in the past few weeks.
On Sunday, Erdogan called a giant rally, with his right-wing ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli in Istanbul’s Yenikapi district.
Fielding a younger candidate, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) hopes a fresh approach will help them take the Istanbul mayor’s office from Erdogan’s ally.
Ekrem Imamoglu, 49, current mayor of Istanbul’s Beylukduzu district on the outskirts of the city, worked in a family business and was a board member of a Turkish football team. A loyalist to Erdogan since the 1990s, Yildirim holds no grudge over the disappearance of the prime minister office he held for two years. He even campaigned for “Yes” in the 2017 vote on reforms that handed Erdogan more authority. — AFP