Thousands demonstrated in Istanbul at a rally organized by Turkey’s main opposition party, after one of its members was sentenced to nearly five years in prison; another party member is set to go on trial in June.
Canan Kaftancioglu is credited with being the architect of the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) win in the 2018 race for the mayor of Istanbul, seen as the biggest loss for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan since he came to office.
Kaftancioglu was sentenced this month to four years and eleven months in prison over charges of insulting the president and the country, although the sentence may be suspended.
The CHP’s US representative Yurter Ozcan told The Media Line that the rally held on Saturday, under the banner of “Voice of the Nation,” was meant to show that the coalition of opposition parties will persevere despite the pressure put on its members.
“Even if some of us go to jail, even if some of us lose our rights to serve in politics, it doesn’t change anything. The movement is going to just grow bigger and stronger,” he said.
“Even if some of us go to jail, even if some of us lose our rights to serve in politics, it doesn’t change anything. The movement is going to just grow bigger and stronger.”Yurter Ozcan
Ozcan said that the pressure the opposition has faced recently signals that Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) is preparing for election season.
When will Turkey head to elections?
While presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for next year, there has been speculation that they could be called earlier.
Ozcan insists his party will be ready whenever the elections are held.
“This is not just an election cycle for us. This is all or nothing time to prove that democracy can make a comeback in Turkey and we can be the ones to revive it,” Ozcan said.
AKP and its predecessors were in power in Istanbul and the capital Ankara for more than two decades before local elections brought in mayors from the CHP.
Erdogan would especially know the power of such a victory as he used his time as mayor of Istanbul to launch himself into the national political landscape.
“Whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey,” the Turkish president once said.
The opposition’s Ekrem Imamoglu ended up winning Istanbul twice.
His slim initial victory in the Istanbul mayoral race against Erdogan’s ally was canceled and he went on to win the re-run by a landslide.
Imamoglu’s public criticism over the cancellation of the first election is now the basis for the charges against him for insulting election officials.
Turkey’s state news agency reported that he faces up to four years in prison.
The AKP’s loss of Istanbul was partly blamed on the country’s struggling economy and tension over the millions of refugees who live in the country.
Those problems are now facing the Turkish president again as the country gears up for national elections scheduled for next year.
The official inflation rate is at nearly 70%, and rising food and housing prices are putting pressure on consumers whose wages are not increasing at the same rate.
The refugee population, which Erdogan has previously said should be welcomed in Turkey, is again a target of partisan politics. In addition, fights between refugees and the local population are leading to fears that more widespread violence could break out.
Turkish politicians are promising to return the refugees to their home countries. The refugees, according to some analysts, have become scapegoats for the country’s financial woes.
Erdogan this month said his country would aim to send 1 million Syrians back to their home country, even though its years-long civil war is still being fought.
CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu took center stage at Saturday’s rally in Istanbul, claiming that the judiciary has been politicized. The Turkish government has insisted the judiciary is independent.
Kilicdaroglu has been hinting that he would like to be the opposition coalition’s presidential candidate to face off against Erdogan, despite being behind him as well as other opposition figures in polls.
Imamoglu and Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas, both members of the CHP, have led polls nationwide.
Executive director of the Istanbul-based think tank IstanPol Institue, Seren Selvin Korkmaz, told The Media Line such rallies are important in Turkey because it is a way for the party to project its power.
“It’s a kind of competition in Turkey to show how many people you can gather here,” Korkmaz said.
The CHP “would like to give a message to the government that their politicians are not alone,” she added.
Korkmaz believes the trials were meant to add pressure to the opposition ahead of elections and to especially target those connected to the opposition’s win of Istanbul.
“I think, until the election, the government will increase the oppression in the country,” Korkmaz said