The coronavirus epidemic did not slow down the polarizing discourse in Turkish politics. The Justice & Development Party AKP government is cracking down on Republican People’s Party CHP municipalities as they have tried to organize city-wide arrangements for their residents during the outbreak, instead of abiding to national campaigns. Because of this, the term ‘parallel state’ has been on the agenda, meaning that CHP municipalities are being blamed for forming their own states within the state. AKP municipalities that have shown their own initiative during the outbreak have been spared these accusations.
Discussions began after AKP chair & President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced his ‘National Solidarity Campaign’ on March 30, with the purpose of raising money to aid those who lost income due to the coronavirus outbreak.
STATES WITHIN A STATE
On April 1, as CHP Municipalities Istanbul and Ankara planned their own donation campaign on a local scale, Erdogan claimed it was unlawful to do so as they were attempting to create ‘a state within a state’, and state power could not be distributed.
“If we are to approach this in a political matter, when will we have solidarity,” the President said in an AKP meeting.
Istanbul Metropolitan Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu and Ankara Metropolitan Mayor Mansur Yavaş -both of whom are elected through main opposition CHP- reacted displeased as their donation accounts were blocked because of the alleged illegality of the campaign. Claiming it was the municipalities’ right to collect donations, local aid continued to take place.
Meanwhile the Ministry of Interior opened an investigation into İmamoğlu and Yavaş for starting a donation campaign for the residents in their cities. The Ankara Bar Association reacted to the investigation by saying that “the provision of social services belongs neither to the local governments nor to the central government.”
THE BREAD DISTRIBUTION DEBACLE
As many cities and provinces had to abide by curfew & lockdowns over the weekends starting in mid-April, citizens were reassured that their main necessities would be taken care of. The distribution of bread thus became another popularity contest.
There were mentions of bread distributions being blocked by police in certain parts of Istanbul. On April 20, CHP Mersin Metropolitan Municipality announced that the free bread distribution of the municipalities was prohibited by the Ministry of Interior during the curfew.
That same day the Ministry of Interior published an animation explaining how the distribution of bread would be done more efficiently if handled exclusively by the governorates.
‘Bread distribution’ animation from the Ministry of Interior
In the animation, it was pointed out that when the distribution of bread is under total coordination of the governorships, an equal number of bread will be distributed to the houses.
— dokuz8NEWS (@dokuz8news) April 20, 2020
However, AKP spokesperson Ömer Çelik denied actively blocking bread distributions: “Now is not the time for polarization and partisan attitude; some municipalities claim that their bread distribution is being blocked; this is a lie. There is no prohibition when it comes to supplying service to the people.” Nonetheless, Mansur Yavaş claimed to go to court over the issue.
Finally, Ömer Çelik criticized CHP municipalities for using party logos on their distributed bread, something both parties are guilty of doing.
AKP Deputy Chair Mahir Ünal blamed CHP for wanting to ‘stand apart’, as not wanting to be part of the state. Meanwhile, as the islamic holy month of Ramadan began, AKP municipalities started distributing hot meals for the supper while CHP municipalities are not allowed to do so.
PARTY WITH AN AGENDA?
The discourse has now taken an even uglier turn, as AKP chair & President Erdoğan has implied that those with a ‘fascist mentality’ would take to the streets. AKP spokesperson Ömer Çelik warned for “a political actor which everyone is aware of, that has a coup on the agenda.”
CHP Deputy Engin Altay reacted to the statements: “We will not take Erdogan down in any other way than in the ballots.”
The spreading of this paranoia can do serious damage to national attempts of combating the outbreak of coronavirus. Yes, the battle against coronavirus is a national emergency and the government should do whatever it can to fight it in all parts of the state.
However, local actors play an essential role in the slowing down of the virus and supporting those who have lost their livelihood. Politicizing the fight is harmful, as the people who need aid in these times should not be charmed for their votes but assisted as citizens of Turkey, in whatever municipality that might be.