AKP runs interference as millions watch opposition mayor start work in Istanbul

Update with rating figures

Turks for years have watched live as drama unfolds at the parliament in Ankara, but the election of a new opposition mayor in Istanbul has left eyes glued on that city’s municipal assembly.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu received his certificate of election last week, 17 days after the March 31 local election results came in.

The long wait has raised intense interest in İmamoğlu, the first secularist politician in charge of Istanbul, the country’s largest city with by far its largest economy, in 25 years.

The new mayor said in a tweet before Thursday's session that the live broadcasts of the first two sittings had drawn 3.5 million viewers.

In a speech opening the assembly’s third sitting chaired by İmamoğlu, the new mayor declared the importance of ensuring that Istanbul lived up to its responsibilty as an exemplary city in Turkey and the engine driving the country.

Yet politicians from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), who hold a majority in the municipal assembly, did not appear eager to make it easy for İmamoğlu.

During a speech after it became clear the AKP had lost Istanbul according to the initial count, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan implied the CHP mayor would have trouble running the city without holding a majority.

The stance of the AKP politicians on Thursday made it clear the party will attempt to run interference while İmamoğlu attempts to make his mark on the city.

The sitting was interspersed by criticisms of the new mayor’s party from AKP councillors, who also interjected with comments praising their own party’s work in the city.

The AKP councillors voted down motions to form commissions on social gender equality and the fight against narcotics.

Another AKP councillor, Ahmet Hamdi Gürbüz, stepped up to the podium to first criticise then hijack İmamoğlu’s campaign promise to reduce travel card prices from 85 lira ($14) to 50 lira.

“Since you’ve made a promise to citizens without understanding its economic implications, you’re going to keep this promise, and we will make sure of it”, Gürbüz said.

“In fact, the AKP group will bring a proposal to reduce the price to 40 lira at the next assembly in May”, he said.