Turkey’s ruling party wars with opposition municipalities during pandemic

Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has often been at loggerheads with opposition-run local governments, but the feuding has intensified since March with the growing spread of COVID-19 in Turkey.

The latest rows began when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched a nationwide fundraising campaign to help low-income households experiencing the brunt of the country’s economic paralysis caused by the pandemic.

Separate support efforts by municipalities controlled by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) have met heavy resistance from the AKP government, leading to the Interior Ministry blocking municipal COVID-19 aid campaigns on March 31 and launching an investigation into those run by the CHP mayors of Ankara and Istanbul this week.

Erdoğan has accused the municipalities of attempting to form a parallel state by launching charity drives.

Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu has fired back; rebuking the government for not collaborating with his city’s municipality in its pandemic efforts, failing to inform him of major decisions – such as the last-minute imposition of a weekend curfew on April 10 – and ignoring his calls for a stronger lockdown.

Erdoğan has long seen İmamoğlu as a potential rival for the 2023 elections, while Yavaş continues to see his popularity rise with his response to the outbreak in Ankara.

The friction between the two parties has since spread to other issues.

The central government blocked the bank accounts of a soup kitchen in Antalya’s Muratpaşa district, which is also held by the CHP. Around 2,000 people had been using the facility, which had recently doubled its capacity as many in Muratpaşa had lost their incomes after the pandemic’s impact grew severe.

More recently, Adana’s CHP deputy Ayhan Barut reported that the city municipality and opposition lawmakers on Saturday prevented an attempt by state officials to seal off the Sahra field hospital set up to accommodate COVID-19 patients, according to a tweet by former lawmaker Eren Erdem.

The hospital was closed off on the grounds that "the necessary permit was not obtained and it was not suitable to provide health services," journalist İsmail Saymaz said, tweeting a copy of the official state report.

Meanwhile, Kadıköy’s state-appointed governorate in Istanbul ordered the district’s CHP-held municipality to cancel all events for Turkey’s upcoming National Sovereignty and Children's Day, Kadıköy mayor Şerdil Dara Odabaşı said.

“No one will stop us from celebrating our national sovereignty,” Odabaşı said.

The municipality was also fined after a celebratory convoy in the district was stopped by the governorate, CHP Istanbul deputy Oğuz Kaan Salıcı said, who posted video footage of a band performing on the top of a moving truck through the streets of Kadıköy.