Istanbul mayor urges Turkish business community to show ‘courage’ towards Erdoğan

Turkey’s business community is “guilty” of worsening economic crisis due to its failure to speak out against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his unorthodox policies, one of the country’s leading opposition figures has said in urging corporate leaders to show “courage”.

In an attack on the business world, Ekrem İmamoğlu, the mayor of Istanbul, lamented that the nation was suffering from “the most significant economic crisis in the history of Turkey”, with an inflation of more than 70 % and soaring poverty, yet the business leaders weren’t talking.

“I watch with sadness the business world unable to show courage,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times. “Unfortunately, the business world is guilty [for the economic situation].”

Erdoğan, a staunch opponent of high interest rates, has repeatedly ordered the central bank to cut borrowing costs in recent years despite rising inflation. Turkey’s president and top officials have justified the latest round of aggressive rate cuts, in the final months of last year, by arguing that they were pursuing a “new economic model”. But this approach caused the currency to fall against the dollar and triggered spiraling inflation.

İmamoğlu, seen as a possible challenger to Erdoğan in the upcoming presidential elections, expressed sympathy for business leaders who have remained largely silent as the country swung from one crisis to another, acknowledging that many feared potential retaliation for criticizing the Turkish leader.

“They are afraid of being investigated on their accounts, facing illegal trials or facing other intervention,” İmamoğlu said.

Some of the country’s biggest conglomerates have faced tax fines, canceled tenders and criminal investigations after perceived slights against Erdoğan, who has ruled Turkey for nearly 20 years.

But the mayor of Istanbul warned that the economy was reaching “the end of the road”.

İmamoğlu won a landslide victory for the Turkish opposition in 2019 by taking control of Istanbul, ending 25 years of dominance by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Erdoğan and his political ancestors in the greater city ​​in Turkey.

He was forced to fight in the election twice after Erdoğan refused to accept his original, narrow victory over the AKP candidate, but won the rematch by a landslide.

The 52-year-old, who is facing what he describes as a politically motivated trial that could see him banned from politics, has suggested he could be removed from office if Erdoğan wins again in the upcoming election. must take place before June 2023 – just as the Turkish President removed dozens of elected mayors from Kurdish-majority towns in the southeast of the country.

“They did a lot of things that we would never think of, believe in, or say would never happen,” he said. “A system with the mentality that it can override an election can do anything.”

Turkey’s opposition parties, which have formed an alliance in an unprecedented show of unity, have yet to decide on their presidential candidate to take on Erdoğan.

While there is growing momentum behind Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of İmamoğlu’s Republican People’s Party (CHP), polls have consistently shown him to be less popular than İmamoğlu and Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş, another CHP member.

The mayor of Istanbul, who publicly supported Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy but did not rule himself out as a candidate, said it was “not fair” to enter into a debate over Kılıçdaroğlu’s ability to run. win as the timing of the elections remained uncertain. But he said choosing the right candidate would be “very, very important”.

As opinion polls suggest popular support for Erdoğan is at an all-time low, but also indicate some voters lack confidence in the opposition, Istanbul mayor says vote outcome is in hands of his party and his allies. “We are the ones who can beat the ruling party and we are the ones who can lose,” he said. “At this hour, the government cannot win.”

He warned that Erdoğan would suffer a “huge defeat” at the hands of the electorate if he lost and sought to revive the vote, as he did in Istanbul. “It’s the 86 million people in this country who make the election [outcome] to the person who deserves it,” he said. “No one can stand in the way of this – including Erdoğan.”

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