Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned the opposition candidate seen likely to become mayor of Ankara in the March 31 municipal elections that running for office won’t shield him from potential legal action.
Speaking in a televised interview late on March 18, Erdogan said that Mansur Yavas, jointly-backed by the main opposition parties for the mayorship, is facing criminal allegations and will enjoy no immunity. Yavas is accused by a prosecutor who has received several criminal complaints of an abuse of duty as a lawyer. He has denied the charge, stating that it is an attempt to smear him before the vote. In that vote, pollsters expect him to comfortably beat the candidate put up by Erdogan’s AKP party. Losing control of Ankara to the opposition would be a big blow to the president and his party.
Yavas will “pay a serious price and make our fellow residents of Ankara pay a price too, even if he can enter the elections”, Erdogan said in the interview.
Erdogan—who since last summer has led a new-style executive presidency with sweeping powers, doing away with the post of prime minister and rolling back powers of parliament in the process—is widely seen as a populist strongman in trouble with much of the electorate because he has led Turkey into a recession triggered by a currency crisis. The crisis was partly brought about by his interference in the monetary policymaking of the central bank, which led to a loss of market confidence.
The local elections are increasingly seen as a referendum on Erdogan’s 16-year-long rule and the president is seen as resorting to desperate tactics to hold on to votes and avoid the humiliation of the AKP losing major cities including Ankara and Istanbul in the elections.
On March 18, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Winston Peters criticised Erdogan for using footage of last week’s mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch at election rallies. At one rally, Erdogan described the mass shooting as part of a wider attack on Turkey and threatened to send back “in caskets” anyone who tried to take the battle to Istanbul.
In recent years, the Turkish government has replaced dozens of mayors, mostly elected to run Kurdish-majority towns, with so-called trustees. The mayors were charged with having ties with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a designated terrorist group that has waged a decades-long insurgency campaign in southeastern Turkey.