Ruling party cries foul after live debate ahead of Istanbul rerun

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday said that the media would publish important reports on Wednesday revealing  that the moderator of a live TV debate between the Istanbul mayoral hopefuls met with the opposition candidate in a hotel before the programme, independent news site Bianet reported.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) mayoral candidate Binali Yıldırım and opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu on Sunday appeared on a television debate on FOX TV moderated by journalist İsmail Küçükkkaya.

The rare live election debate, the first since Erdoğan came to power in 2003, dominated the agenda for weeks, with speculations over the moderator, questions and format.

The highly-anticipated television programme proved to be a lacklustre event with no breakthrough moments, but the discussions on the programme continued afterwards.

“Your will see something important in the media tomorrow. In relation to this television programme, you will see how and where they (the opposition) met the moderator before the programme. Nothing is honest and sincere,” Erdoğan said late Tuesday during an election event in Istanbul.

Turkish president’s comments came hours later the pro-government daily Sabah shared pictures of Küçükkaya and İmamoğlu arriving the same hotel in Istanbul, where they met before the programme.

The meeting between the opposition candidate and the moderator was in the headlines of every major pro-government news outlet on Wednesday.

Küçükkaya said he met both the advisers of Yıldırım and İmamoğlu before the programme for almost two hours to discuss the format. The journalist said he had talked Yıldırım on the phone and met İmamoğlu in person for a few minutes.

Yıldırım said the meeting between Küçükkaya and İmamoğlu was unethical.

“I am leaving the public to appreciate what it means making a face-to-face discussion with one of the candidates in the same place and not providing the same opportunity to the other candidate,” Yıldırım said. The AKP candidate accused Küçükkaya of hiding information, as the journalist did not mention the meeting with İmamoğlu during his phone conversation with Yıldırım.

“There was a project presentation that day. We met at a hotel in Istanbul, in Taksim. It lasted like 15-20 minutes. But we merely spoke 2-3 minutes,” İmamoğlu said on Tuesday during a television programme on state-run TRT.

Küçükkaya said on Wednesday that FOX TV would file a legal complaint against the Marmara Hotel in Taksim, accusing them of leaking footage and images to pro-government outlets.