İmamoğlu’s refusal to lift alcohol ban in Istanbul municipal facilities sparks debates

Istanbul’s new mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu has been facing criticism from his voters after he said on Wednesday that he had no plans to lift the ban on selling alcohol beverages in municipal facilities.

İmamoğlu, who comes from a centre-right, religious family background, will be authorised as Istanbul’s new mayor on Thursday.

The politician from the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) ended the 25 year-rule of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its Islamist predecessors in Turkey’s financial powerhouse with victories both in the March 31 local polls and the Istanbul rerun on June 23.

Consuming and selling alcoholic beverages in municipalities’ social facilities was banned after Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, now president, was elected as Istanbul’s mayor in 1994. The ban was extended to all AKP-held municipalities after Erdoğan’s AKP came to power in 2002.  

“Why should I start alcohol services in one day? Where do those rumours come from?,” İmamoğlu said in his first interview as mayor elect on Habertürk television.

A week before the mayoral race, İmamoğlu also said during a television debate with his AKP rival Binali Yıldırım that he had opened nine social facilities when he served as the mayor of Istanbul’s Beylikdüzü district and none of them sold alcoholic beverages. 

While for some voters the ban on alcoholic drinks is a secondary issue, for others it is pivotal as it indicates discrimination against certain lifestyles

“People did not vote you in to oppose alcohol Ekrem İmamoğlu. If you made your stance clear before the elections, you would not have been elected at all. Be a bit reasonable,” Naim Dilmener, a famous DJ and music writer, said on Twitter. 

Some of İmamoğlu’s supporters said on social media that there was no point electing an opposition politician if he was going to continue AKP policies in the municipality. “I hope he takes steps to address the demands of his own base, otherwise he will remain only as a mayor,” one user said on Twitter. 

According to journalist İsmail Saymaz, criticisms against İmamoğlu over alcohol ban are in fact efforts of people posing as leftists to corner the politician. “Most are not even CHP voters,” Saymaz said.

Meanwhile, some voters of İmamoğlu support the alcohol ban in municipal facilities, saying they are used by families. Others said keeping the ban in place was a good tactic to win the hearts of conservative voters.