Countdown to Turkeyʹs local elections
Thank God for tomatoes!

The AKP is currying favour with the electorate using religion and cheap vegetables. At the same time, it is attempting to suppress any news that might cause unrest among party supporters. By Bulent Mumay

The closer the local elections on 31 March get the more absurd the political squabbling in Turkey becomes. The AKP government, which has been in power for 17 years now, is not prepared to admit any of its failures. The cost of living is being blamed on the traders, the increase in interest on the banks, the rise in the dollar on the United States, the flare-up of terrorism on the opposition. It is evading responsibility in a bid not to lose any votes in the face of the economic crisis.

God is even being brought into play to win back voters. Ismet Yilmaz, a top AKP official, promised all those who vote for his party: "Voting for our candidate means salvation on Judgement Day". At the same time, we learnt that voters who refuse to vote for the AKP are in grave danger. The AKP candidate for Izmir warned at his presentation meeting: "God will punish those who do not vote for the AKP!"

I don't know to what extent this threat is realistic, but I am sure that no matter whether you vote for the AKP or not, there is no salvation from "punishment" in this system.

No accountability

The calamities triggered by politicians in their greed for votes can hit everyone, regardless of whether they are AKP voters or not. Recently, 21 people died because politicians closed their eyes to illegal construction for the sake of winning votes. A seven-storey residential building collapsed in Istanbul, which is known for its earthquakes – despite the fact that there was no tremor.

Collapsed apartment block in Istanbul on 7 February 2019 (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
House of cards: after the momentous collapse of a residential building in Istanbul with 21 dead, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced there would be consequences. "We have a lot of lessons to learn," said Erdogan on visiting the scene. Really? No one has yet been called to account

In a tawdry bid to secure votes, a building that had yet to be inspected and approved was allowed to be connected to the electricity, water and gas supplies. In fact, prior to the elections on 24 June 2018, the government announced an amnesty for those builders willing to pay a few lira to the state for their illegal constructions. The block that collapsed in Istanbul is just one of tens of thousands of illegal buildings that the government legalised to collect votes and money.

Now you might expect that after the catastrophe, which cost 21 people their lives, those responsible would resign, the building amnesty would be called off and everything would be done to combat illegal construction, in an attempt to prevent new disasters, right? But that is not the way the system works in Turkey. In Turkey, those in power are past masters in the art of self-exoneration. Sure, they will visit the ruins and pose with sorrowful demeanour. They will even embrace grieving family members at the funeral, but they wonʹt accept responsibility.

This is exactly what happened after the recent fiasco in Istanbul. Nobody was prepared to take the blame. The only government action in the wake of the disaster was to impose a news blackout. They were not interested in who was responsible for the apartment building collapsing like a house of cards. After all, were a scandal to emerge before the elections, involving AKP officials who tolerated illegal construction, it would cost the administration votes.

Catapulted into the top five

The days leading up to the elections are numbered; nothing that might negatively impact the AKP vote is tolerated. Various attempts are being made to prevent any information that might offend AKP supporters from reaching the public.

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