Yıldırım 'must consult' AKP on Istanbul debate participation

Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Istanbul mayoral candidate Binali Yıldırım has said that he must consult with his party before accepting an offer from a TV station to take part in a live debate with his opposition rival ahead of the June 23 vote, left-wing newspaper Birgün reported on Wednesday.

“This is not a matter I can decide on alone,” Yıldırım said, adding, “I cannot guarantee anything at this time.”

Pro-government TV channel Habertürk earlier this week invited the two Istanbul mayoral candidates, the main opposition Republican People's Party's Ekrem İmamoğlu and AKP's Yıldırım, to a live debate ahead of fresh election set to take place next month.

“Share your projects with our citizens and let’s discuss them freely together,’’ Habertürk anchorwoman Didem Arslan Yılmaz said this week, suggesting a format that is rarely used in Turkey.

İmamoğlu also responded to the invitation saying he would be happy to take part in the debate and criticised AKP's Yıldırım for his reluctance. 

“He says he can't guarantee that he'll take part and can't decide on his own. That's the difference between us. I look at what 16 million people want from us,’ Imamoğlu said, referring to the population of Istanbul.

The invitation by Habertürk followed controversy over a Monday interview with İmamoğlu on the pro-government channel CNN Türk, which finished half an hour ahead of schedule.

Critics say CNN Türk cut the programme short when the opposition candidate began making statements on the extravagant spending of previous AKP-run municipalities.

İmamoğlu narrowly won the March 31 election against Yıldırım, but the electoral authority earlier this month ordered the election annulled and held again next month after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling AKP lodged an appeal, alleging irregularities.

Live debates featuring political candidates, while popular during the pre-AKP era, have virtually disappeared during the Islamist party’s 25 years in power as many AKP officials have refused to participate in such a format.