Tunceli (GPA) – In the face of falling approval ratings, Erdogan’s AKP – with the debt they created to use as a cudgel – have moved to just cripple his political opponents by cutting state funds for areas his party lost in the last election (and more).
If there’s is one thing an authoritarian who has yet to fully take over all the levers of power feels threatened by is a last-minute competition that may impede the long-term plan. This is an apt description of Turkish President Recep Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), who for years have won election after election – granted by slimming margins each time – and used these victories as an attempt to concentrate power in the office of the Presidency.
While Erdogan managed to scrape out a close victory during his last general election in 2018, it was apparent then, the numbers were moving out of his favor. There were also accusations of things like ballot fraud and people voting multiple times which led many to believe Erdogan’s narrow retention of his majority came by such slim margins largely due to this tampering.
Erdogan had even made it easier to commit fraud in the previous national elections with rules written that would make ballot stuffing easier. The referendum (which also passed under disputed circumstances) even made it unnecessary for election officials to seal ballots to better verify their authenticity.
Despite all of these roadblocks, which also included removing opposition mayors from their positions and replacing them with AKP lackeys and arresting opposition politicians and organizers, none of this was enough to stop what happened in last year’s municipal elections. While most people do know of the major losses for the AKP in cities like Ankara and Istanbul, some of the former AKP-districts in the east and southeast Turkey also fell to opposition parties including the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) whose mayors had previously been removed after the post-2016 crackdown and advances by the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) in the eastern region of Tunceli.
While the victories in Istanbul and Ankara by the old establishment Republican People’s Party (CHP) may seem like a big deal due to the level of money Erdogan was stealing from the public treasuries there, the real important victories and source of threats to the AKP were those posed by the HDP and the TKP which are now under assault by the President and his cabinet of criminals.
Starting with the TKP, the reason this party poses so much danger to the AKP in their history over the last few years of developing a local system of government that is, to some extent, independent from Ankara. The TKP in Tunceli is responsible for many advancements that have improved the lives of their constituents such as the Ovacikdogal grocery commune which has now expanded into a national grocery chain sourced by co-op farmers in Tunceli who reap the direct benefits of the store’s sales in an equitable way.
This “communist” grocery store is most known for its high-quality honey, which is only a part of what makes the store so unique. Due to its reliance on biodiversity in the Tunceli region and many agricultural reforms put in place by TKP leader Fatih Mehmet Macoglu when he was the mayor of another Tunceli city, Ovacik, the store also manages to beat prices of other grocery stores operating in Turkey including offering the famous Tunceli honey for a below-market price.
This was all made possible via massive overhauls made by Macoglu in his time as mayor of Ovacik which included initiatives such as opening a new public library, getting laptops to all middle school students, working for free public transit in certain areas, and even annually posting a giant board of the cities revenues and expenditures for the whole city to see, but most important were his agricultural reforms. Major agricultural reforms included the conversion of hectares of state-owned land for conversion into farms as well as subsidizing existing local farms with things like fuel provided by the city which all contributed to the communal system of food distribution and redistribution of profits from harvests on state land going to the residents of Ovacik.
As a reward for this unparalleled success, during the 2019 municipal elections, Macoglu went on to win the position as the mayor of Tunceli, the capital of Tunceli province. Not only was this an advancement in Macoglu’s career, but it also put him in a position to plan on launching even larger initiatives to benefit his constituents with his control over more resources. However, now it seems Macoglu is becoming a victim of his own success and has drawn the ire of Erdogan, the AKP, and the massive state bureauacracy that the president is still happy to use as a cudgel.
While in the case of the recently elected HDP mayors in the east in 2019, the AKP was direct and just removed the Kurdish mayors who had taken seats from former AKP appointees that had replaced previous Kurdish mayors who were elected in 2014. Yet when it comes to the fight with the communist project in Tunceli, Erdogan seems like his plan is to cripple Macoglu’s government by drowning it in red tape.
This came last week when the central government of Turkey sicked the Social Security Institution (SGK) on the Tunceli municipality. According to the SGK, the province has failed to pay into its social security fund of around $1.7 million causing the SGK to freeze the municipality’s bank accounts.
Perhaps there would be an argument that this is reasonable had Macoglu himself actually created this debt in his less than a year in power but that obviously isn’t the case. According to Macoglu, a majority of Tunceli’s debt was actually taken on before he took office when the municipality was run by…surprise!…another outsider hand-picked AKP surrogate.
There is also a better, stronger argument that this would be unethical no matter what the economic condition in Tunceli is right now. This second argument is actually built on the constitution of Turkey which says Ankara may only freeze up to 40% of a municipality’s budget rather than this insane 100% which has even frozen the municipality’s payroll account, leaving local government workers unpaid.
Turkey has already removed over 30 popularly elected mayors since the municipal elections next year on a range of charges – mostly colluding with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) or the FETO organization of Fethullah Gulen – but it seems some mayors like Macoglu (whose base is composed of a strange mix of Kurds, Shia Islam co-religionists Alevis, and Marxists) are less susceptible to being hit with bogus “terrorism” charges. So, instead, Ankara has now resorted to trying to strangle the success of the TKP. Unfortunately for the AKP, this may turn out to be a fight that only makes the TKP more dizzy with success as they build more local networks to further weaken Ankara’s power.
Image source: Wikipedia