On the evening of June 16, Turkey will remember a ritual of democracy that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has made the country forget over its 17 years in power — a televised debate between political rivals Binali Yildirim of the AKP and Ekrem Imamoglu of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the two main contenders in the June 23 rerun of the mayoral election in Istanbul.
The AKP’s political culture has barred party candidates from facing their rivals directly and on equal terms in pre-election televised debates. In five parliamentary polls, two presidential polls, four local elections and three referendums held under AKP rule, the party’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has never held a televised debate with any rival ahead of the votes. In democratically governed countries, televised debates help voters to compare candidates and form healthier opinions. Erdogan and his party, however, have mostly pursued polarizing rhetoric targeting the legitimacy of their opponents and thus stood aloof from facing them in such debates over the past 17 years.