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Erdoğan hints municipal services in İstanbul will be interrupted if AKP candidate not elected

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made a veiled threat to the residents of İstanbul, saying they will face interruptions in municipal services if his ruling Justice and Development Party’s candidate is not elected in the local election scheduled for March 31.

His remarks came during the inauguration of a new train line between Sirkeci and Kazlıçeşme that was attended by AKP mayoral candidate Murat Kurum, a former environment minister.

With less than 40 days to go before Turkey’s highly anticipated local elections, İstanbul, Turkey’s economic powerhouse and largest city, is witnessing a closely watched election campaign between incumbent mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, a member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), and Kurum.

“Who is ruling the country now? We are. Does the mayor of İstanbul have the advantage [of government backing]? No. As of March 31, there will be no interruption [of services] when [the government in] Ankara and Murat Kurum work hand-in-hand,” said Erdoğan, in remarks that were interpreted as both an admission and a threat.

Critics have said Erdoğan has acknowledged that his government will withdraw support for municipalities run by the opposition, a claim long voiced by opposition mayors, and that he has threatened İstanbul residents to vote for his party’s candidate in order to get uninterrupted municipal services.

Erdoğan also accused İmamoğlu of wasting the past five years in İstanbul and exacerbating the city’s major problems such as traffic and garbage collection.

İmamoğlu, on the other hand, claims municipal resources have begun to be effectively used for the people of the city during his term in office, unlike what happened during the rule of AKP mayors, and accuses the government of obstructing his projects for the city for political reasons.

In a similar statement earlier this month, Erdoğan hinted that cooperation between Ankara and local administrations is crucial for the delivery of aid to the victims of two powerful earthquakes that hit the country in February 2023.

Speaking at a party rally in Hatay, one of the hardest-hit provinces, he lamented the devastation in Hatay and hinted that the neglect of the city was due to the lack of such cooperation, as the Hatay municipality is run by Mayor Lütfü Savaş of the CHP.

He attracted widespread criticism from the opposition and Hatay residents, who accused the president of politicizing disaster relief.

Erdoğan officially announced Kurum’s nomination as the AKP’s mayoral candidate for İstanbul earlier this year, with the aim of reclaiming the city after a historic defeat in the 2019 local elections.

Erdoğan’s AKP and its predecessors had governed İstanbul for 25 years until İmamoğlu’s victory, which marked a significant shift in the city’s political landscape and considered the biggest defeat in Erdoğan’s political.

İmamoğlu is viewed as Erdoğan’s most powerful political rival. He faces a political ban and a prison sentence for insult over his remarks about electoral authority officials in 2019 as a result of a politically charged trial, if upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals.

The latest surveys from six pollsters suggest that İmamoğlu has a lead over Kurum.

Kurum’s reputation suffered from the public reaction to a landslide at a gold mine in Erzincan province earlier this month that put him at the center of criticism.

The incident left nine workers trapped under 10 million cubic meters of mud and raised fears of a cyanide crisis due to the use of the chemical in gold extraction.

Environmental advocates and local officials had sought to shut the open pit mine down after a cyanide leak caused by a burst pipe during Kurum’s term as environment minister in 2022.

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