Yet another opportunity to bash the opposition

Turkey has one of the world’s fastest growing coronavirus outbreaks, confirmed cases double every three days. The statistics, combined with the capacity of the health system and nature of the restrictions raise great concerns. 

Doctors are forced to apologize for their critical remarks, health workers are banned from making press releases on their conditions. Aside from handful of villages of towns, strict measures are not enforced, though people are repeatedly told to “self quarantine.”

Yet,  as President Erdoğan repeats, “the wheels have to keep on rolling” and production has to continue. While some firms have halted their production, construction and energy projects - even megaprojects such as Kanal Istanbul – are still underway. 

Meanwhile, Erdoğan has launched a “national solidarity campaign”, calling on businessmen to further support the poor. “No virus is stronger than our unity” states the campaign slogan. The public is also encouraged to donate 10 TL (1.5 dollars) with a text. Erdoğan himself donated seven months of his salary to the cause. Some AKP members and MPs say they have donated their salaries as well in solidarity. 

Pro-AKP and pro-MHP have embraced the national solidarity campaign and the names of the “brave”donors get published. Opposition voices, however, are highly critical of the campaign and say they will not give a dime to the corrupt system. As usual, the authorities have investigated critics on social media. 

Renowned writers pointed out that the President has a budget of 8 billion 700 TL, urging the President to cut back on his any planes and on his lavish palace.  Cigdem Toker, a columnist at the Sözcü daily, wrote that businessmen close to the regime can now cut back from their taxes if they make Covid-19 donations. Those businesses got a 18.9 billion TL guarantee from the government, plus their rents covered, while others, especially small businesses get nothing. 

This is why the national solidarity campaign seems rather like another way to support contractors building bridges, roads, tunnels, mega projects. What made the campaign and the president’s strategies with regard to the coronavirus outbreak even more explosive, was a block on attempts by local municipalities to raise funds. 

While many lives are at stake, the war against the opposition carries on. The Minister of the Interior Süleyman Soylu announced on March 31 that the donation accounts opened by the municipalities of Istanbul and Ankara were blocked as they were “against the regulations.”

Again, this was another way to crush the opposition, by preventing Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayors, Ekrem Imamoglu (Istanbul) and Mansur Yavaş (Ankara) from becoming even more popular. The message is: Only the president is allowed to control and manage donations, the rest of the country should stay at home and do practically nothing.  

Yavaş, who announced that the donations would be given to those in need in Ankara, tweeted “Don’t worry, we won’t let anyone be in need. We’ll continue to help as planned.”

Imamoglu, on the other hand, continues to appear on mostly opposition TV shows, explaining that the block is unlawful. As for the leader of the CHP, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu lags behind in the political discourse, as usual. On March 31, he told a journalist he would work on the tax law and make a “detailed announcement” on the donation campaign as late as next week. 

The strategy of the main opposition party CHP with regard to the pandemic mostly consists in announcing the necessary steps to be taken.

There is not much talk of the recent crackdown on municipalities held by the opposition People’s Democratic Party (HDP). On March 23, eight more trustees were appointed to HDP-held municipalities. Four mayors have been detained, a warrant has been released for the fifth. 

The AKP-MHP alliance seems to interpret the coronavirus outbreak as an opportunity for its own PR: People will get help only if they support their cause. Critical voices are deemed “terrorists” and the coronavirus battle can only be waged with their own means.