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ÖZGÜR KORKMAZ > State-funded projects fuel PM Erdoğan’s local election campaign

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As Turkey heads to the local elections on March 30, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are not shying away from enjoying the benefits of a one-party rule, and are using state-funded projects in the election campaign.

Here is a list of ceremonies Prime Minister Erdoğan attended in the last week:

- On Feb. 12, Erdoğan attended the opening ceremony of Batıkent-Sincan metro line in Ankara. The route was planned in the mid-1990s, the construction started in 2001 and the Transport Ministry took over the project in 2011 when Mayor Melih Gökçek admitted failure and said it could not be completed with municipal funds.

- On Feb. 15, Prime Minister Erdoğan was in Istanbul. He first opened the metro bridge over the Golden Horn, which is under fierce criticism over concerns that it destroys the silhouette of Istanbul’s historic peninsula. It was funded by the municipality.

In his speech at the ceremony, Erdoğan said the disputed bridge and Marmaray, which connects the European side to the Anatolian side under the Bosphorus, had been carefully constructed as they were located in a zone full of historical artifacts. “Twenty-three antique wooden vessels were recovered during the works. The findings here date Istanbul back to 8,500 years ago,” he said proudly, probably hoping that no one would remember he complained on April 29, 2013, that “a few pieces of discovered pottery delayed the Marmaray for four years.”

On the same day, Erdoğan also met with the bus and minibus drivers of Istanbul.

- On Feb. 16, Erdoğan attended the ceremonies of two hospital projects in Istanbul; the foundation-laying ceremony of İkitelli hospital campus, where eight separate hospitals will be built, and the opening ceremony of a hospital building in Bakırköy. Both projects are paid for by the state.

- On Feb. 17, Erdoğan attended a ceremony for the ambitious FATİH Project to distribute tablet computers to students. The project is run by the Education Ministry and aims to provide all students with tablets.

During his speeches at the ceremonies, Erdoğan underlined that the “Dec. 17 coup attempt” aimed to prevent the government from serving the nation. He specifically noted that only AKP-member mayors could provide even the most basic municipal functions and that he, as a former mayor, had the knowledge of the citizens’ needs.

In his campaign, Erdoğan is paying special attention to Istanbul, where the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is challenging incumbent mayor Kadir Topbaş with Mustafa Sarıgül, a popular name and the former mayor of the Şişli district. Erdoğan often makes references to the situation of Turkey’s biggest city before 1994, when he was elected the mayor from the ranks of the now-defunct Welfare Party (RP). He paints an exaggeratedly grim picture of Istanbul in the pre-Erdoğan era;
according to him, it was a city covered with garbage with no water and very little public transport. The prime minister and his remarks on Istanbul get so much coverage, especially in the pro-government media, that it is as if he is the one running for the mayoral post.

In fact, Erdoğan gives so much importance to the elections in Istanbul that, according to a leaked phone conversation made public by CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu on Feb. 18, he instructed Fatih Saraç, the executive of the Ciner Media Group that owns daily Habertürk newspaper and Habertürk TV station, on Oct. 6, 2013, to ignore stories on Sarıgül “as we are now in delicate times.”

In the run-up to the elections, Erdoğan, who considers the election a vote of confidence for his government, and the ruling party do not only enjoy the state-funded projects, but will also receive the lion’s share of financial aid to political parties. The Treasury will pay double the normal rate, 315.7 million Turkish Liras, as 2014 is an election year, and the AKP, based on its votes, will  get 177.1 million liras of this.

Erdoğan is waging an all-out attack for March 30, which he has said will be the “most important elections so far for our party.” He even said an election victory would clear his AKP and its members of the corruption accusations.

The voters will decide…

February/20/2014

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