Erdoğan punishing Turkey by stopping municipal aid drives – opposition MP

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government is punishing the country by stopping municipalities run by opposition parties organising aid campaigns to help the poor during the coronavirus pandemic, said Mustafa Yeneroğlu, a member of parliament who resigned from the ruling party and joined a breakaway last month.

An alliance of opposition parties won control of five of the six biggest municipalities in local elections last year, the biggest electoral defeat inflicted on the president’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) since it came to power in 2002.

But the Interior Ministry has blocked opposition-run councils from organising aid campaigns to help the needy affected by the coronavirus, which has killed more than 2,800 people in Turkey.

Erdoğan has accused opposition municipalities of trying to set up a parallel government. Yeneroğlu said the government was scared opposition municipalities would surpass its own efforts to help the needy during the pandemic.

“The country is going through extraordinary times, and in this period local governments have been significant examples of social municipal work and solidarity,” said Yeneroğlu, who now sits in parliament for the breakaway Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) headed by Erdoğan’s former finance minister, Ali Babacan.

“No one can have a monopoly on doing service to the nation. For (the government) to see municipalities as rivals is punishing the nation in a continuation of its polarising politics,” Yeneroğlu told Ahval in an interview.

Seeing the source of support for the needy as a threat, Yeneroğlu said, was “reflection of a skewed understanding that considers services, not as an administrative responsibility, but as a way to strengthen the government’s hold on power”.

Much of the AKP’s success has been due to its ability to distribute patronage in the form of contracts, jobs and aid to its key constituencies and potential supporters.

The Interior Ministry’s blocking of municipal aid campaigns was also unlawful, Yeneroğlu said.

“For the Interior Ministry to block these campaigns in a circular that contravenes the constitution and the law, and for it to liken actions by mayors who received more than half the vote to those of terrorist organisations, is from a legal perspective very frightening,” he said.

Yeneroğlu said there was a lack of coordination at the heart of government as shown by Erdoğan’s refusal to accept the resignation of Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu two weeks ago. Soylu tried to resign after ordering a 48-hour curfew in major cities just two hours before it was to come into effect, leading to crowds flocking to buy food and possibly helping to spread the virus further.

Erdoğan was once was a great hope, Yeneroğlu said, but would be remembered alongside other populist authoritarian leaders across the globe.

While Turkey has claimed success in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, it has failed to fully disclose data on the geographic and demographic spread of the virus, Yeneroğlu said.

“Transparency and freedom of information are vital concepts in democracies,” he said. “Unfortunately, in countries like ours, the first things to be repressed are freedoms of expression, thought and the press,” he said, pointing to the scores of people charged with insulting the president and incitement to hatred.

A number of measures tacked onto emergency legislation in parliament were unrelated to the pandemic, Yeneroğlu said, and “pointed to a government that prioritises its own interests above the problems of the people”.

Yeneroğlu criticised a new law passed this month to release some 90,000 of the prison population of around 300,000. Opposition parties opposed the bill in parliament as it kept inside the hundreds of political prisoners jailed under terrorism laws for criticising the government, without committing any acts of violence.

He said courts had a “hollowed-out concept of terrorism” that led to journalists and rights campaigners remaining in prison, labelled as terrorists. He said Turkey needed to “prevent phone calls from the executive branch to the judiciary,” to ensure the separation of powers.

Yeneroğlu said he joined DEVA because there was a limit to what one person could do alone to strengthen the values of democracy, rule of law, justice and human rights.

“The rule of law is a bittersweet memory left in the past,” he said. “But it is in our hands to change this negative picture of human rights. Our goal is to make Turkey a pluralist and pro-freedom democratic country, enriched by a diversity of views.”

 

© Ahval English

The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.