Mar 12 2019

Opposition candidate denies abuse of position claims, pro-gov’t newspapers censor response

Opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayoral candidate Mansur Yavaş on Tuesday denied claims of abuse of power by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials while working as a lawyer a decade ago, opposition Halk TV reported.

Yavaş is accused by pro-government daily Sabah and AKP officials of having abused his position as a lawyer by filing duplicate court claims to recover a $600,000 fee due to his client, harassing the complainant, businessman Necmettin Keskin, to recover the fee, and using a false signature in a legal document.

Yavaş released a press statement on Tuesday, denying the allegations and saying he was the real victim in the decade-old case.

The Ankara mayor hopeful said that he was left with a legal document that contained a fake signature after businessman Keskin fled.

"There is no verdict by the Supreme Court against me. I am the real victim here,”  Yavaş said, adding, that he will file a criminal complaint against pro-government outlets and AKP’s Ankara candidate Mehmet Özhaseki and AKP spokesperson Ömer Çelik, both of whom have targeted Yavaş.

The allegations against the opposition candidate, who will be running for mayor of the capital Ankara for a third time, arrive as Turkey prepares for local elections on March 31. Pro-government Hürriyet newspaper on Tuesday published and then removed the response by Yavaş, Halk TV said.

 

While Hürriyet kept the Ankara mayor hopeful’s statements online for two hours, it said, other newspapers of the pro-government Demirören Group, such as Milliyet and Posta, chose not to publish Yavaş’s statements at all.

In the last few days, top-selling Turkish newspaper Sabah has attacked Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Mansur Yavaş placing words like “fake” and “abuse of office” in large print next to his face on the front page.

Sabah Yavas
Sabah Yavas

On Tuesday an Ankara court accepted prosecutors' indictment against Yavaş, seeking three years in prison. Yavaş denies the claims, and has described the allegations as “the lowest and most immoral attack” of his political career.

“This isn’t a rare piece of balanced political coverage from the blindly pro-government daily,” wrote Michael Sercan Daventry, the British-Turkish journalist behind JamesinTurkey.com. “The reality is that Turkey is a democracy on life support and Sabah is the flagship of the country’s glut of pro-government newspapers. What is important about Sabah’s story is not the substance of the allegations; it is the impression it leaves on its readership.”

Sabah’s English-language version, Daily Sabah, has yet to run the story, which tells us the intended audience, according to Daventry, and that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is concerned about the Ankara vote in March 31 local elections. 

“Yavaş is no left-wing pansy: he is a Turkish nationalist who is well out of his political comfort zone as the candidate for the centre-left CHP,” wrote Daventry.

“That makes him a significant challenger for a mayoralty held by Mr Erdoğan’s party and its predecessors since 1994, a situation confirmed by the few opinion polls this website has seen. There is every reason to believe Turkey’s governing party could lose control of the capital city,” he said.

Five years ago, Yavaş’s first campaign as CHP mayoral candidate saw attacks on his suitability for the position. Mysterious posters appeared around Ankara showing him in a near-embrace with a left-wing, pro-Kurdish politician, under the slogan “We will govern together”.

“The flyers were forgeries, a clear attempt to attack Mr. Yavaş’s conservative credentials,” wrote Daventry, adding that he still nearly beat four-term AKP mayor Melih Gökçek.

“The official results feed showed the gap between the two candidates narrowing to as little as 10,000 votes before the count suddenly stopped for several hours. When counting resumed, Mr. Gökçek widened his lead, eventually winning by a single percentage point. Mr Yavaş maintains the result was stolen,” wrote Daventry.

Sabah’s recent coverage of Yavaş’s alleged legal troubles feels like a repeat of the poster, according to Daventry. Yavaş has 10 days to defend himself against the allegations before a prosecutor decides whether to take the case to court.

“But this hardly matters: what is important is how often words like ‘fake’, ‘abuse of office”, ‘loot’ and ‘$600,000’ can appear alongside the opposition politician most likely to cause an electoral upset in less than three weeks,” wrote Daventry.