Istanbul mayor’s repeat victory is rebuke to Turkey’s president

Today's expression: Bow to pressure
Explore more: Lesson #171
July 11, 2019:

Ekrem Imamoglu won a convincing victory in a re-run of last spring's mayoral election in Istanbul. Imamoglu won the first vote by 0.2%, but the vote was canceled under pressure by the powerful AK party. In a re-run of the vote, Imamoglu won a thumping nine-point victory, a stinging rebuke to Turkey's president. Plus, learn the English expression "bow to pressure."

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It’s hard enough to win a high-profile election against Turkey’s ruling AK party; Ekrem Imamoglu has just done it twice in three months

Hi again everyone, I’m Jeff and this is Plain English, the best podcast for learning English with current events. Your recipe for success. JR is the producer. You know, if Plain English is your recipe for success, then JR is like the master chef. He’s like Gordon Ramsey in the kitchen, barking out orders, controlling the chaos behind the scenes so that the dish comes out perfectly to your table. Anyway, this is episode 171—the chaos is my fault by the way—and you can find all the episode resources at PlainEnglish.com/171.

Coming up on today’s episode: Turkey’s ruling party was dealt a stinging rebuke in two recent elections in Istanbul. I say two because the country’s ruling party didn’t like the results of the first round of voting, so they ordered a re-do. And Istanbul’s voters came out in force to re-affirm their initial decision. High drama in Turkey’s biggest city. Later on in the episode, we’ll have an expression, “to bow to the pressure.” And it’s Thursday, so JR has an English song of the week.

Before we start, if you haven’t tried reading on a Kindle app, you’re going to want to do that. It’s the best way to read books in your new language because you can look words up right from the app, instantly. You can also check Google translate from inside the app. It’s pretty cool, and you can download the app from PlainEnglish.com/read. It works for either an Android phone or iPhone.


Rebuke to ruling party in Istanbul election

He had to win the same election twice, but Ekrem Imamoglu will be the next mayor of Istanbul, the financial and cultural center of Turkey. Ordinarily, the mayor’s office in Istanbul would not be world news, but this year it was ground zero for a high-stakes political struggle.

Imamoglu first won his office in March by a slim margin: just 0.2%, or 13,000 votes out of 8 million cast, separated him from his opponent, Binali Yildirim. Yildirim is a former prime minister and well-known politician and he represented the ruling AK party. He was personally backed by Turkey’s powerful president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, so his defeat was considered a surprising rebuke to the president. It was made worse by the fact that Imamoglu was a little-known politician before running for mayor. The margin was narrow, but the message was that Istanbul was turning its back on the country’s powerful president.

That margin, though, was narrow enough to allow for some post-election interference. For weeks after the election, the AK party pressured Turkey’s election board to nullify the election and call a new vote. They finally bowed to the pressure and called a new election for June. Ostensibly, the reason for the new vote was that certain election officials had been improperly appointed. However, the election commission did not cancel any other races that were supervised by the exact same election officials; the AK party was the winner in those other races.

The AK overplayed its hand: the re-run proved worse for Erdogan than the original election had been. Istanbul’s voters, along with many in the international community, recognized the re-vote as a sham. Imamoglu won the re-do in a landslide, securing a comfortable margin of more than 800,000 votes. In winning by 54% to 45%, Imamoglu won not only his supporters, but also many thousands of residents who wanted to right the injustice of the canceled election. Turnout was 85%; people canceled holidays to be home on election day. Residents streamed into the streets, playing music and sounding horns in celebration.

Their new mayor, Imamoglu, has found support across the political spectrum. Instead of attacking Erdogan, as many opposition politicians do, he focused on upholding the rule of law in Istanbul. The rallying cry of his supporters during the campaign was, “Everything is going to be great.”

The mayor’s office of Istanbul is considered a stepping-stone in Turkish politics. In the 1990s, Erdogan himself served as mayor of Istanbul before launching a national political career. Now some are asking whether this might be the first step for Imamoglu.

Perhaps, but Imamoglu won’t have an easy job as mayor. The AK party still has a strong grip on the country’s politics. Erdogan won the presidency just last year and he remains personally popular. The AK party and its allies have a commanding majority in Turkey’s parliament. They can still cause all kinds of trouble for Imamoglu in the future—whether by investigating him personally or blocking his proposals in Istanbul.

There are some reasons for the AK party to be concerned, besides the recent election in Istanbul. The mayors of three large Turkish cities are now from the opposition party. And there are rumblings from within the AK party that some disgruntled party leaders may break away and form one or more new parties.

Then there’s Turkey’s economy, which just came out of a recession and is expected to dip back into recession this year. The value of the currency has fallen by 40% and inflation is near 20%. Erdogan has alienated its biggest trading partner, the EU, and it’s biggest security ally, the United States, in recent years.


We have a lot of listeners in Turkey, but we’ve never done an episode about Turkey before, so glad to get one in there. Although I did once say that Istanbul was the capital of Turkey and got my wrist slapped by a few listeners for that minor blunder.

Time to say hello to a couple of listeners. Fanny from Honduras. She heard I was reading a book about Winston Churchill and she recommended the movie “Darkest Hour.” And then she recommended “The Crown,” a series on Netflix. Fanny and I must have the same tastes, since I’ve seen both of those and loved them. So if you’re looking for a movie or new series, I’d endorse Fanny’s recommendations – “Darkest Hour,” the movie and “The Crown,” a series on Netflix. JR likes “The Crown,” too.

Also big hello to Paulo from Sapucaí-Mirim in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. He works in human resources for a company in his town; he says Sapucaí-Mirim is a really really small town. He sent me some pictures—it looks very green and really beautiful. Glad to have you with us Paulo and Fanny.

And I also would like to say thank you—or I should say “teşekkür ederim”—to Metin and Sevil, who helped me with the pronunciation of the Turkish names in this episode. You know, before, if I needed to know how to pronounce something, I’d go to YouTube and try to find a video of someone pronouncing a name or a place or something. But today I just look on my WhatsApp contacts and I ask for some help, and you guys always come through. The best audience in the world, someone once said, and that’s definitely true. I’ll give you the WhatsApp number at the end of the program.

I’m reading a traditional paper book right now—so very old-fashioned—but when I read in Spanish, I always read on the Kindle app on my phone or my iPad. The reason is, there is a built-in Spanish-English dictionary right inside the app. So when I come across a word in Spanish I don’t know, then I can look it up right inside the Kindle app. Most Kindle books are $8 or $10, but there are thousands of them for even less than that. Try reading a book you’ve read in your own language—it takes the pressure off a little bit. You can check out the Kindle app by going to PlainEnglish.com/read, and like I said before, it works for either an Android phone or iPhone.

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Expression: Bow to pressure