Thu. Apr 25th, 2024

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has nominated former environment minister Murat Kurum as the mayoral candidate for Istanbul, seeking redemption after the significant setback suffered by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the 2019 elections. The municipal elections on March 31 are crucial, with control of Turkey’s major cities at stake.

The secular opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) marked a turning point in 2019 by reclaiming Istanbul, breaking Erdogan’s long-standing dominance. The defeat in Istanbul, along with losses in Ankara and Izmir, exposed vulnerabilities in Erdogan’s rule, challenging his perceived political invincibility.

Opposition campaigns highlighted concerns about corruption and a post-2016 coup political crackdown, resonating with the public. Despite facing economic challenges, Erdogan secured re-election in 2023 and has now set his sights on regaining Istanbul, his hometown and political launchpad.

Addressing supporters at a party congress in Istanbul, Erdogan emphasized determination: “We say no stopping until March 31, keep going.” He presented Murat Kurum as a candidate focused on solutions rather than excuses, projecting humility over arrogance.

Kurum, a civil engineering graduate from Konya’s Selcuk University, previously served as Erdogan’s environment and urbanisation minister. His background as an urban planner aligns with Erdogan’s narrative of Istanbul’s decline under opposition control.

Kurum, who won an internal party poll overseen by Erdogan, has a history in Turkey’s housing development administration and parliamentary representation in Istanbul. His wife, Sengul, holds a senior position at Turkey’s RTUK media regulator.

The spotlight on Istanbul intensified after the controversial annulment of the 2019 election, where Ekrem Imamoglu emerged victorious. Seen as a formidable opponent to Erdogan, Imamoglu’s re-run victory boosted opposition morale. Now, Kurum’s candidacy poses a challenge to Imamoglu’s national aspirations.

In response to his confirmation, Kurum took a subtle jab at Imamoglu, stating, “We are here to manage Istanbul in a systematic and planned manner and to give the city the special attention it deserves.” The upcoming municipal elections will be closely watched, as they could reshape the political landscape and influence the 2028 presidential race.

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