In Istanbul, bread becomes a political issue

With its brioche wrappers and its small sign marked with an ear of wheat, the modest Istanbul buffet Halk Ekmek (“The bread of the Stambouliotes”) could go unnoticed in the middle of the storefronts in a row of the main shopping street of Ümraniye . But in this peripheral district of Istanbul, where the economic crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic are hitting the poorest households hard, no one is unaware of the address of the municipality’s bread depot.

Even in this mid-afternoon, the queue keeps getting longer. ” I come here every day, and I buy four loaves of bread for us, as well as three for my neighbor », Explains Ayse, a veiled forty-something with an accent typical of the conservative Black Sea region. “The bread is cheaper than elsewhere, and it is also of good quality », She specifies. With four mouths to feed at home, and a single salary for income, the math is quickly done.

Suspicions of political instrumentalisation

Founded in 1971, the Istanbul Halk Ekmek company is one of the partners of the large municipality of Istanbul. Created to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged, it distributes nearly a million and a half breads every day in 540 dedicated outlets at the price of one Turkish lira – the equivalent of 11 euro cents -, half less than the loaf of white bread sold in bakeries.

“It’s unfair competition », Fulminates Ahmet Zeki Sarıhan, president of the Istanbul Bread Producers Association. Gathered with his baker colleagues in a small room a few streets from the center, he does not take offense against the mayor of Istanbul and figure of the CHP (Republican People’s Party). ” Ekrem Imamoglu has multiplied the points of sale, and he uses it to advertise his party! And then, you find that it is a beautiful showcase for our country these itinerant merchants and these endless queues? “

But the baker also recognizes that the phenomenon goes beyond the CHP, the main opposition party to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “This is nothing new. Political parties have always instrumentalised bread. “

In Istanbul, one in four households in need

For Berkan Özyer, member of the Istanbul Planning Agency, “The municipality tries above all to find solutions to an urgent problem”. “Inflation on food products has reached record highs in recent months”, remember this specialist in agricultural and food policies, for whom “It is the question in itself which has become very political”.

The worsening of poverty in the country is such that the distribution of food aid is no longer carried out on the basis of the poverty index (90 € per person per month) but of the “hunger” index. »(64 € per person and per month). The number of requests for help from the municipality of Istanbul exploded during the pandemic: more than a million more people turned to it, which would amount to one in four households in need, according to the reports. social services.

→ ANALYSIS. Turkey, Erdogan’s unbridled ambitions

To alleviate the problem, the large municipality of Istanbul has wanted to increase the number of bread sales outlets in recent months. But the mayor’s initiative was hampered by some of his municipal councilors, members of the ruling coalition in Ankara, reports the daily. One day. The standoff continued on the ground: in Sancaktepe, AKP town hall (President Erdogan’s party) took the initiative to remove some newly installed mobile outlets.

The AKP electorate is known to be sensitive to questions of assistance to the population. The government coalition’s fear is undoubtedly of losing the monopoly on social assistance and of being overtaken in this area by other political parties wishing to provide concrete solutions to the problems of the Turkish population.

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A tense political context

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan unveiled, Tuesday March 2, an “action plan” to “strengthen the rule of law”, and announced that 393 measures would be implemented by 2023, the centenary of the Republic and the next election presidential.

The president’s main ally, Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the far-right MHP party, also on March 2 called for the closure of the opposition HDP party, from which dozens of elected officials have been imprisoned or removed from their posts. A prosecutor called for the imprisonment of Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, accused of having “Insulted” a local governor.

On March 25, European leaders must examine a ” roadmap “ on the future of relations with Turkey during a summit in Brussels.

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