In a parliamentary speech Jan. 12, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan referred to as the opposition “the biggest problem of the country,” searching for to painting the principle opposition chief and his aides as linked to terrorist teams and averse to Islam. The speech was extensively seen as a contemporary signal that Erdogan and his allies — hit by sagging ballot scores amid financial turmoil — would attempt to criminalize the opposition forward of presidential and parliamentary elections subsequent 12 months.
Such worries have been on the rise since final month when the Interior Ministry introduced up terrorism-related allegations in opposition to Ekrem Imamoglu, the extremely fashionable mayor of Istanbul and member of the principle opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), whereas prosecutors took care to say in an official indictment that CHP chief Kemal Kilicdaroglu had met with an association of Kurdish imams, which stands accused of hyperlinks to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the armed Kurdish group that Ankara designates as a terrorist group.
It all began with claims by Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu that greater than 500 staff of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IMM) had been affiliated with terrorist teams. Imamoglu instantly requested the Interior Ministry for an inventory of names, however to no avail. Instead, the ministry introduced its personal inspection on the IMM that discovered 455 folks linked to the PKK and dozens of others affiliated with far-left and different teams designated as terrorist organizations.
Pro-government media revealed the names and photos of 30 of the “terrorist” staff. Nine of them turned out to not be IMM staff in any respect, whereas the remainder sued the papers for defamation.
Curiously, the primary paperwork the inspectors wished to see had been the lists of contracts the IMM has concluded and the enterprise licenses it has issued since 2019, when Imamoglu turned mayor, Tarik Balyali, the CHP spokesman on the municipal meeting, advised Al-Monitor. “What do these have to do with a terrorism probe?” he requested, including that “utterly political motives” underlaid the inspection.
Devlet Bahceli, the chief of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the de facto coalition accomplice of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), was fast to name for Imamoglu’s elimination ought to the inspectors “establish a crime.” Erdogan, for his half, declared the mayor responsible already, saying that the IMM has grow to be “the apparatus of terrorist organizations.” Furthermore, he stated that “the same goes for Ankara,” elevating the specter of the same move in opposition to the Ankara Metropolitan Municipality.
For some observers, the inspection stems from the AKP’s grudge over the 2019 native elections, by which the ruling celebration misplaced its longstanding management of Ankara and Istanbul. Others consider the AKP is targeted on the upcoming presidential and parliamentary polls. The elections are due in June 2023, however hypothesis is rife that Erdogan would possibly name snap polls this 12 months ought to he see a greater likelihood of successful.
Erdogan’s ballot numbers have steadily dropped amid financial turmoil, fueled by a extreme foreign money depreciation and skyrocketing costs, and rising allegations of corruption and nepotism in AKP ranks. Meanwhile, Imamoglu and Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas, additionally a CHP member, have loved hovering reputation, with each polling forward of Erdogan in a possible presidential race.
The native election outcomes got here from a coalition of opposition forces led by the CHP and backed tacitly by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which has confronted a harsh clampdown and dangers being outlawed on prices of collaborating with the PKK.
“Regardless of who the CHP’s [presidential] candidate will be, the AKP-MHP alliance will seek to associate that person with terrorism and weave an election strategy based on narratives of national survival and the security of the state,” political commentator Evren Baris Yavuz advised Al-Monitor.
If a felony criticism is filed in opposition to the IMM, “such probes would turn into a judicial stick” in opposition to the opposition, Yavuz stated. “The aim here is not to obtain a legal conclusion, but to imbue the public with a sense that something fishy is going on in the municipalities.”
In his Jan. 12 speech, Erdogan drew a hyperlink between the CHP and the HDP and sought to depict each events as linked with terrorists. The AKP-MHP alliance, Yavuz stated, “is trying to squeeze the opposition as a whole,” hoping that the accusations will eclipse the financial disaster, which presently tops the general public agenda.
According to veteran journalist Ismet Demirdogen, the inspection on the IMM marked “the start of the AKP’s undeclared election calendar,” however the timing of the elections will depend on the success of AKP’s two fundamental present methods. “The first involves anti-Kurdism and exploitation of religion and the second involves disabling the opposition’s potential presidential candidates,” Demirdogen advised Al-Monitor.
Kilicdaroglu was named within the indictment, he identified, and Imamoglu is perhaps placed on trial for using folks linked to terrorism. And by implicating the Ankara municipality, “Erdogan drew Yavas, also touted as a presidential candidate, into the game. They want to block and discredit those three potential candidates.”
According to Demirdogen, “The AKP’s ultimate objective is to undo the progress that CHP municipalities have made [in reaching out to the masses] through social assistance and solidarity, paralyze those municipalities in the lead-up to the elections and discredit potential candidates. Then they will conduct opinion polls to see whether or not the electorate is buying all this. If it is, they will promptly call elections. And if it isn’t, they will play for time.”
Asked whether Imamoglu and other opposition heavyweights could end up sidelined, CHP deputy chair Ali Oztunc said, “They may entertain such intentions but would not dare to go ahead because the people and the people’s votes is what matters in democracies. The people manifested their will in the elections in Ankara and Istanbul. They will do so in the general elections as well.”
Nevertheless, the CHP last week sent up to date tips to its mayors throughout the nation, detailing what they need to do within the case of police raids, together with precautions in opposition to proof planting.