DTurkish President and AKP Chairman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan got the ball rolling for the next battle for Istanbul when he said on December 5 that Istanbul must find “its ruler” again in the next election, and that that was the AKP. Even two and a half years after the ruling party lost the mayoral election to the CHP, the largest opposition party, the sting runs deep. The mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu, who has been in office since 2019, has cut or completely canceled the city administration’s grants to AKP-related institutions, which has hit the AKP’s election machine hard.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu diligently took up the issue in parliament on December 9th. He told the people’s representatives that of the 33,000 employees that Imamoglu had hired, at least 557 had relationships with or belonged to terrorist organizations. Soylu connects 455 with the Kurdish Workers’ Party PKK, the rest with small left splinter parties.
On Sunday, Soylu announced on Twitter that he had set up a position at the ministry to investigate the complaints about the 557 people. That same evening, CHP chairman Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu launched the attack. He asked Erdoğan what he was doing in Istanbul. Everyone in Turkey understood what Kiliçdaroglu implied but did not say: whether Erdoğan was planning that the Interior Ministry could remove Imamoglu for alleged misconduct and replace it with an administrator, a kayyum, as has happened with dozens of mayors of the pro-Kurdish HDP in recent years is.
What is the AKP-dominated city parliament doing?
Soylu should have reached one goal with his attack. Because the alleged “employment of terrorists” in the largest city administration in Turkey is distracting from the self-inflicted crisis of the Turkish currency. Instead of solving these, the adversaries shower themselves with accusations on an artificial issue. Imamoğlu can claim that all of the recruitments he made were subject to a security check by the Ministry of the Interior. He also accuses Soylu of deliberately lying. Because he did not hire 33,000 new people, but 21,000. Imamoglu recommended Soylu to undergo a “psychological checkup”. He is not suitable for the office of interior minister.
The Turkish opposition fears that the discussion about the 557 employees could be the prelude to Imamoglu’s impeachment by the interior minister. After that, the AKP majority in the city parliament of Istanbul could appoint one of their ranks as the new city head, but Soylu could also appoint a receiver. This would be doing the AKP a disservice. Imamoglu is closing in ranks in the CHP and he could challenge Erdoğan in the next presidential election. Imamoglu is more popular nationwide. As the deposed mayor and a victim of Erdoğan, he could count on the sympathy of the voters as he did in 2019, when the AKP candidate was only marginally defeated in the first round of elections that was canceled. Thanks to many protest votes, Imamoglu triumphed all the more clearly in the second round.