Key Erdogan Ally Backs Probe Into Opposition Istanbul Mayor
(Bloomberg) -- A key ally of Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared his support Thursday for a government investigation into Istanbul’s popular mayor -- a potential future challenger to the president.
Erdogan’s government launched a probe earlier this week into allegations that Ekrem Imamoglu had hired more than 500 people affiliated with outlawed organizations including the PKK, a militant group fighting for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey’s southeast.
“If he is guilty, of course he should be removed from his job,” Devlet Bahceli, the head of the Nationalist Movement Party, said in an interview published Thursday by Turkgun newspaper. “If the allegations are true then the mayor has betrayed Istanbul. This treason can’t go unpunished.”
In that instance, a new mayor should be elected by the Metropolitan Municipality Council, he said, referring to a body dominated by Erdogan’s AK Party.
Critics have slammed the investigation as an attempt by Erdogan to deflect public attention as rising inflation hits his popularity and shakes his grip on the country after two decades in power.
Imamoglu’s popularity has surged past that of Erdogan -- himself a former Istanbul mayor -- ahead of presidential elections scheduled for 2023, according to pollsters.
Erdogan didn’t recognize Imamoglu’s initial victory in 2019 local elections, pressing the electoral board to order a repeat vote. But Imamoglu won the second ballot as well, ending more than a quarter-century of control over the country’s commercial capital by Erdogan’s party and its predecessors.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu has dismissed accusations that the probe was politically motivated, saying it was part of Turkey’s fight against terrorism.
The mayor denies any wrongdoing. He said the municipality checks the criminal records of all new employees in line with the law but couldn’t act as a spy agency.
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