Istanbul opposition candidate slapped voter, says pro-govt media

Turkish pro-government newspapers accused main opposition Istanbul mayoral candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu of slapping and scolding a restaurant employee in connection to a video edited by the ruling party that went viral. 

In the lead-up to the June 23 rerun vote, Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate İmamoğlu is running a campaign that prioritises face to face contact with voters, after the Supreme Election Council annulled the March 31 election result in Istanbul, which he was initially declared to have won by a narrow margin.

During a television interview on Monday, İmamoğlu was asked whether he had a message for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Gülen movement, a religious group Turkey blames for a failed coup in 2016, about the Istanbul election. Turkey’s government considers both groups terrorist outfits. 

"Come, let's govern Turkey together,” he said on Habertürk. “The AKP obtained authority on June 24 (2018 general elections). Who is more patriotic? This country has 82 million patriots. We are all together standing against terrorist organisations.”

An AKP official in Istanbul then cut the video to show the CHP candidate responding to the question with only, "Let's govern Turkey together”, and posted it online, where it was quickly shared by hundreds of pro-government accounts.

On Tuesday, İmamoğlu visited a restaurant in Istanbul’s Arnavutköy district where a young male employee, while shaking the candidate’s hand, asked about his comments on Habertürk. İmamoğlu urged the man to watch the full video, and put a smartphone between them with the interview beginning to play. 

The employee said he did not want to watch, but İmamoğlu told him not to act snobbish and pushed the phone back toward the man. “I watched the footage from beginning to end,” the employee said, ending the discussion. 

As İmamoğlu began to walk away he patted the man’s cheek, which the opposition on social media said was meant as a friendly gesture.

According to Takvim, İmamoğlu was disrespectful and acted aggressively. Sabah daily said İmamoğlu had slapped and scolded the voter, though it later deleted that tweet and said there had been physical contact between the two. Star newspaper said İmamoğlu was playing the victim by showing an edited version of the video, adding that the politician had lightly slapped the employee while leaving the restaurant.

On Wednesday, another pro-government daily, Yeni Şafak, said that the PKK and Gülenists in Europe had been raising funds to support İmamoğlu’s election campaign. The newspaper published CHP leaflets calling for support for İmamoğlu, without showing any link to the PKK or Gülen.