On posters and banners displayed on Ankara's bridges and bus stops, the mayor of the Turkish capital Mansur Yavas urges his wealthiest citizens to help the poorest by paying for their food shopping. "Kindness is more contagious than disease," says the slogan that stretches under the photo of a large register on which the word "Paid" is stamped in red.
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Despite the sticks that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan puts in their wheels, the mayor of Ankara and that of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, both from the opposition, compete in cunning to help their constituents most affected by the new coronavirus pandemic. The growing popularity of these two elected representatives from the Republican People's Party (CHP, Social Democrat) is such that they now appear as potential rivals to Erdogan.
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The president however leads them the hard life: in March, his government thus blocked calls for the donations launched by the town halls of Istanbul and Ankara to help the poorest. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Erdogan launched a similar campaign. MM. Imamoglu and Yavas were elected in municipal elections in March 2019, ending 25 years of Islamist-conservative rule in Istanbul and Ankara, the two largest cities in Turkey. Erdogan initially refused to recognize Imamoglu's victory, forcing him to a second ballot that the current mayor of Istanbul won with an even bigger gap.
For Seyit Torun, vice-president of CHP in charge of local communities, the attitude of the government of Mr. Erdogan shows that he is "really concerned" . "During the elections, they claimed that CHP town halls would cut aid," Torun told AFP. "Now everyone can see what it is . "
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When the mayors launched their appeals for donations, Erdogan accused them of wanting to create “a state within the state” and of “showing off” .
"A city of six million inhabitants does not have a second, a minute to show off," retorts AFP Kemal Cokakoglu, assistant secretary general at the town hall of Ankara. By skillfully managing the coronavirus crisis that has claimed more than 4,000 lives in Turkey, opposition municipalities pose a political "threat" to the government, said Seren Selvin Korkmaz, director of the Istanbul Institute for Political Research.
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Erdogan is aware of the danger posed by opposition mayors, who imposed himself on the national political scene by successfully leading Istanbul from 1994 to 1998. According to a survey by the Metropoll Institute, Mr. Yavas is the 'one of the personalities most gaining the confidence of the Turks in the face of the pandemic, behind the Minister of Health, but in front of Mr Erdogan.
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According to Ms. Korkmaz, the government is targeting opposition mayors in particular to "consolidate its base" by plunging Turkey into a climate of "us" against "them" . But the Islamo-conservative party of Mr. Erdogan (AKP) refutes any hostility in principle to the initiatives of the town halls of opposition. "We just want them to work in coordination, and not on their side, with other government initiatives," said Cevdet Yilmaz, AKP vice-president, during a briefing with the foreign press on Thursday.
However, before the coronavirus crisis, the government had already undertaken to complicate the task of opposition town halls by stripping them of certain prerogatives. Despite the difficulties, MM. Imamoglu and Yavas have managed to raise large sums in the framework of various initiatives to help the most modest faced with the coronavirus. Thus, the Istanbul city hall launched in early May a solidarity campaign encouraging the richest to pay the water and gas bills of the poorest. In one week, 122,250 invoices were thus settled, according to the municipality.
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The Ankara town hall has taken up this initiative and also allows its citizens to recharge the most modest transport card or to make a donation to those who have lost their jobs because of the epidemic. With the holy month of Ramadan which started in April, the mayor of Ankara has also launched a campaign to offer “iftar” meals (breaking the fast).
Despite a cyber attack targeting the site shortly after the launch of this campaign, the municipality of Ankara achieved its goal of 265,000 meals offered to 35,000 people.
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