It feels like deja vu. A Turkish court has sentenced Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu to two years and seven months in prison for insulting him. The judgment goes hand in hand with the ban on holding any political offices in the future.

At first glance, history seems to be repeating itself. Because 24 years ago, the same fate befell a successful Istanbul mayor. The then opposition politician was banned from politics for life by the court. The name of the Mayor at the time: Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Like Erdogan at the time, Istanbul’s current mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, considers the court’s verdict to be politically motivated. The conviction is not the only thing the two political adversaries have in common. Both men come from the rather conservative-nationalistic Black Sea region. Like Erdogan, Imamoglu grew up in modest circumstances, attended a Koran school and played football.

But that’s where the similarities between the two men end. Imamoglu has a diploma in his pocket, he studied business administration. Even after 20 years, there is still speculation about Erdogan’s training.

Popular in Turkey, politician Imamoglu belongs to the country’s largest opposition party, the Republican People’s Party CHP. At the beginning of the year, this formed an alliance with five other opposition parties and is working together on a program for the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in June 2023. It is not yet known who is running as a challenger against Erdogan.

It is precisely this fact that seems to be making the AKP government and President Erdogan increasingly nervous. Because they have difficulties in developing a counter-strategy.

According to polls, there are two politicians who could pose a threat to the current incumbent Erdogan: one of them is Ekrem Imamoglu. Political observers assume that Erdogan not only wants to get rid of him as a possible rival before the next presidential elections, but also wants to oust him from his position as Istanbul’s mayor.

The 16 million metropolis is the heart of the Turkish economy. More than 20 percent of the country’s employees work on the Bosphorus. Around 51 percent of exports and 55 percent of imports are processed in Istanbul.

After the AKP lost this economic center to the opposition in 2019, it became increasingly clear how the party itself had benefited from its rule on the Bosphorus. For example, the AKP has apparently supported government-affiliated foundations and media for years with public funds from the city and has given preference to certain companies when awarding public contracts.

The political scientist and Turkey expert Burak Copur from Essen is firmly convinced that Imamoglu’s sentencing is not a legal but a highly political process. “The verdict is intended to eliminate Erdogan’s strongest opponent in the 2023 elections,” he said in an interview with DW.

The political ban follows the same system as the conviction of ex-HDP chairman Selahattin Demirtas or Istanbul CHP chairman Canan Kaftancioglu. Political rivals who become powerful are simply locked away by the president with the help of a judiciary that is subservient to him.

Nils Schmid, foreign policy spokesman for the SPD, considers Imamoglu’s conviction to be a “scandal”. The continuing politicization of the judiciary is a fatal signal for the elections in Turkey.

According to Renata Alt, chairman of the Human Rights Committee in the Bundestag, the harsh sentence against Imamoglu is a sign of growing fear of the opposition.

“The attempt to eliminate Imamoglu in the run-up to the parliamentary elections is an unprecedented instrumentalization of the judiciary,” said the FDP politician. Turkey must return to the rule of law and Imamoglu must be guaranteed a fair appeals process.

The human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticizes the political ban against Imamoglu as a calculated attack on the entire Turkish opposition. It shows that the AKP government is willing to abuse the courts to silence key opposition figures, HRW said on Thursday.

But Turkey expert Copur sees the tough verdict against Imamoglu as an opportunity for the opposition. It could also empower the opposition politician if he ran. Because the process stylized Imamoglu to a political victim.

Copur recalls that Erdogan himself was once “victim of a political judiciary” and became president out of this victim role. “If the Turkish opposition sees this crisis as an opportunity and can mobilize the population, this political judicial coup could become a major own goal for the AKP and herald the beginning of Erdogan’s end,” believes Copur.

It is still unclear which opposition politician will run against Erdogan in the elections. What is certain is that Imamoglu wants to appeal the verdict.

Autor: Diamond Gunner

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The original of this post “What is behind the ban on politics for Istanbul’s Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu?” comes from Deutsche Welle.