The two main candidates for the Istanbul mayoral election rerun on June 16, Binali Yildirim from the People’s Alliance and Ekrem Imamoglu from the Nation’s Alliance, faced-off in a televised debate on Sunday.
Istanbul's mayoral election rerun gained momentum on June 16 as Binali Yildirim, representing the People's Alliance (AK Party and MHP), and his political foe Ekrem Imamoglu, representing the Nation Alliance, faced each other on national television, debating different aspects of their proposed policies.
This was the first live televised political debate since 2002 when the then AK Party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan went head-to-head with CHP party leader Deniz Baykal, moderated by seasoned journalist Ugur Dundar.
The polls will be conducted across the city on June 23 as the results of the initial election held on March 31 were annulled by the Supreme Election Council (YSK).
Moderated by veteran journalist and TV presenter Ismail Kucukkaya, the three-hour debate allowed Yildirim and Imamoglu to discuss major aspects of the election and their promises to the public should they be chosen.
Why the election is being renewed
Answering Kucukkaya’s question, Yildirim said: “Certain odd things happened, the election became tainted and finally the Supreme Election Council evaluated the situation and decided on a renewal of the election.”
Yildirim added that his alliance would have preferred a recount to lay to rest any questions about the initial election, but that Imamoglu’s party (The Republican People’s Party - CHP) refused to go along with this proposition.
Imamoglu answered the same question and said that there was no such rejection. Imamoglu also pointed out that during the night of March 31, Anadolu Agency stopped reporting the results on TV at the same time that Yildirim announced he had won the election. He also added that the data the CHP had was different and that Imamoglu had announced his win based on that data.
Imamoglu said that the March 31 election was “as pure as mother’s milk” and noted that according to the YSK there was no theft, as the AK Party suggests, and that the revote is a “struggle for democracy” not just for Istanbul, but for the greater country.
Yildirim said that homemakers are important to the People's Alliance, noting the women take care of children and house work, and need to socialise as well. Yildirim said the municipality will purchase handiwork from homemakers and will provide up to 1,000 Turkish lira per family.
Yildirim said he would also construct hundreds of kindergartens so that homemakers can leave their children in daycare.
Imamoglu said he was happy that Yildirim’s election promises mirrored his own. Yildirim objected to this description, saying he was a candidate and of course he would have promises to the electorate.
Imamoglu said he would start with opening kindergartens in 150 neighbourhoods. Imamoglu added that they would help women find employment, and also support women and children who are victims of domestic violence with special teams.
The economy and joblessness in Istanbul
Imamoglu said one in every three young people is jobless in Istanbul, and one in two university students is unemployed. He put the joblessness rate in Istanbul at 15 percent, and said that he would work on putting an end to extravagance and waste so that he could battle poverty and joblessness.
Imamoglu continued that he would produce packages for “education support, living support, marriage support and food support”.
Yildirim said his party had serviced all corners of Turkey and if chosen it would serve all 15 million Istanbulites from all over Turkey who live, work, raise their children and worry about their kids’ future. Yildirim countered Imamoglu’s claims about extravagance and wasteful spending, saying “any service rendered unto Istanbul is never a waste”.
Yildirim said that he has been serving Istanbul since 1994, and that he has turned the Istanbul Maritime Transportation (IDO) organisation into a world-class one while he ran it.
Syrian refugees in Istanbul
Observing that there are probably close to one million Syrian refugees in Istanbul including unregistered nationals – as opposed to the official figure of 547,000 registered Syrians – Imamoglu said Europe has let Turkey down and has not supported the country as it should have.
Imamoglu said he would establish a desk that would actively work to serve Syrian refugees, and especially protect women and children. That said, Imamoglu also mentioned that Istanbul citizens coming “from the east, south, north” believe that their jobs are being taken over by Syrians and he will actively work on this issue.
Yildirim said all Syrian refugees are registered and receive educational and health services, basic human services. Yildirim agreed with Imamoglu that Europe has let Turkey down except for praising its efforts as lip service.
Yildirim said thanks to cross-border operations in Turkey’s southeast, about 500,000 Syrians had already returned to their homeland. Yildirim noted that there are a lot of Syrians residing in Istanbul, and should they get involved in any disturbance, or anything illegal, they would be sent back to Syria. He said that the municipality will work with the Ministry of Interior and immigration authority.
Yildirim also corrected Imamoglu by pointing out that there’s already a desk in Istanbul that sees to matters involving refugees. He said it may need to be further strengthened.
Transportation in Istanbul
Yildirim said that when it comes to transportation matters, “there’s no need for modesty, I took care of transportation in Turkey”. He noted that the AK Party in 16 years had provided roads, airways for the people, brought fast train projects to life, and spread the internet across the country.
For Istanbul, there’s already the Marmaray, the third Bosphorus bridge, the Eurasia Tunnel, the North Marmara Road, Osmangazi Bridge and the world’s biggest airport, Yildirim recounted. “But let’s not dwell on the past,” he said.
“We will construct at least 50 kilometres of rail systems every year,” Yildirim said. He also said that organising Istanbul’s traffic and adding to the rail systems will shave half an hour off commuting times for people.
Yildirim said: “I have done [improvements] before, I will do it again.”
Imamoglu stressed that he would work with all actors in transportation to help Istanbulites and offered free bridge passage to taxi and minibus drivers. Imamoglu said Istanbul was the “second most congested city in the world” and that Yildirim hasn’t been able to solve its problems by himself.
Imamoglu said he would work on fixing Istanbul’s transportation problem by working on integrated systems and using the waterways more, adding clean energy vehicles to the metrobus line and setting up megabuses for TEM motorways.