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Turkey’s infamous ex-PM endorses AKP mayoral candidate in İstanbul

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A former Turkish prime minister who is associated with corruption and shady relations with the mafia has endorsed Murat Kurum, the candidate for mayor of İstanbul from the ruling Justice and Development Party, according to Turkish media reports.

Tansu Çiller, Turkey’s first and only female prime minister who served from 1993 to 1996 and whose time in office was marked by scandal, made a rare public appearance to express her support for Kurum.

Çiller, who attended an event for Kurum in İstanbul on Thursday, told reporters after listening to Kurum’s speech that she was excited about his plans for İstanbul.

She said Kurum’s most important election pledge is to prepare Turkey’s most densely populated city for a powerful earthquake, about which experts have been warning for years. Çiller also said Kurum’s promises to ease traffic in İstanbul and create employment opportunities for women are also very exciting.

“I think İstanbul was in search of this excitement,” said Çiller.

The endorsement of Kurum by a controversial figure like Çiller has attracted the attention of Kurum’s rival, incumbent mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

İmamoğlu ended the years-long Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule in İstanbul when he won against the AKP candidate in the 2019 local elections, which along with the loss of several other big cities to the opposition, turned out to be the biggest political defeat for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in his career in politics.

The İstanbul mayor talked about Çiller’s support for Kurum during a visit to the Çekmeköy district as part of his election campaign, associating it with Çiller’s expectation of financial gain if the former environment minister is elected mayor of İstanbul in the March 31 elections.

According to İmamoğlu, Kurum, who served as environment minister between 2018 and May 2023, granted a zoning permit for a 13,000-square-meter plot of land owned by Çiller in İstanbul’s upscale Sarıyer neighborhood, which was taken to court by the İstanbul Municipality and was ultimately cancelled.

“Why should she endorse me? She knows whom to endorse…. He [Kurum] helped her gain financially, but I am trying to make our people gain. This is the difference between us,” İmamoğlu said.

He also accused Çiller of ruining the country’s economy when she was in power and causing the Turkish people to suffer from record levels of inflation, just like today under the AKP government.

Before the general election in May 2023, Çiller made a similar move in support of the AKP and announced that she was planning to establish a new party, in a move interpreted as an attempt by Erdoğan to divide and destabilize an opposition bloc of parties.

As prime minister Çiller promoted conservative populist policies and economic liberalism and also ruled in an authoritarian style while appearing uninterested in women’s issues.

Her tenure is thought by many to have been a dirty war waged by the Turkish government against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in which mafia figures sponsored by the security apparatus assassinated businessmen and intellectuals who were believed to have been providing support to the PKK.

She and her family were implicated in corruption allegations and unaccounted-for wealth following her time as prime minister. She was also the target of criticism for engaging in favoritism and filling state posts with cronies.

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