In the middle of the night, an armored vehicle runs through the streets of Istanbul, empty due to the curfew due to covid-19. Escort a crane. The objective of the special police forces is to remove a banner from the facade of a headquarters of the center-left Republican People's Party (CHP), Turkey's main opposition formation. The banner reads the following question in Turkish language: "128 milyar dolar nerede?" The phrase and the figure translated into Spanish are equivalent to: where are the 128,000 million dollars (106,000 million euros)? Similar scenes, with more or less officers, took place at CHP offices in 39 districts of Istanbul and in 40 provinces across the country during the night of April 13-14.The government delegations and several provincial courts had decreed that these banners were an “insult” to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan - a crime punishable by between one and four years in prison - and the policemen delivered notifications to some party leaders to testify before the Justice .
In other cases, the excuses were more strange: in Sakarya province, a judge said that the banner could arouse “adverse reactions” from citizens and the building could be “damaged”.
In that of Karaman, the governor decided to ban "the sticking of posters" for a month as "measured by the coronavirus."
The next day, CHP members again held up banners at all of their headquarters, in some cases with just the number 128 written on them.
In the evening, they were withdrawn again.
128 tutuklandı ... https://t.co/52h7f5w0fz pic.twitter.com/cIM0ogMfo9
- Özgür Çelik (@ozgurcelikchp) April 15, 2021
But why has this number become outlawed?
Between 2019 and 2020, under the direction of the then Minister of Finance, Berat Albayrak, who is also Erdogan's son-in-law, the Central Bank of Turkey and several public banks sold a good part of their foreign exchange reserves (around 128,000 million dollars) to try to maintain the value of the Turkish lira without increasing interest rates.
The strategy was a fiasco because the lira continued to fall, and the issuing institute was left with practically no foreign currency reserves.
The governor of the Central Bank was fired in November last year and his successor has also been recently expelled: one of the reasons is that he wanted to investigate what had happened to the 128,000 million dollars.
Erdogan's favorite son-in-law
Albayrak left the government and has not been seen in public since. In January, the youth of the CHP decided to start a campaign by posting posters showing Albayrak's photo under the slogans "Wanted" and "Where are the 128,000 million?" Three young party militants were arrested by the police in Istanbul and, in Izmir, several were called to testify, although they were eventually released.
“We have asked several times in Parliament what has happened to the foreign exchange reserves, to whom they have been sold and at what price. But we have never gotten a clear answer. Once Erdogan said that the money was still in the Central Bank boxes, another that had been used during the pandemic, "explains Gökçe Gökçen, vice president of the CHP and one of the architects of the campaign:" So we decided to start hanging banners asking thus. But the government has reacted in a completely illegal way by ordering their withdrawal. It is totally unconstitutional and shows the fear that the Government has that it will be discovered that it has done something irregular with so much money at a time when poverty is increasing ”.
From the ruling Islamist party, for its part, the Social Democrats are accused of carrying out "a manipulation operation." "In any scenario, the CHP does not hesitate to use lies, improprieties and insults against Turkey," Erdogan denounced. Last Friday, the new governor of the Central Bank, Sahap Kavcioglu, explained that the money has not disappeared but part of it was sold to foreign investors who wanted to undo their positions in lira - and that now millions of dollars have been taken out of the country- , another part to Turkish companies to pay their debts denominated in dollars and another part was dedicated to paying debts of the State itself: "If you look at the balance sheets, you will see that there is nothing lost there."
The issue is the lack of transparency: if previously the Central Bank published the data of all its interventions in the foreign exchange market, since January 2014 it has stopped doing so, according to a complaint by Kerim Rota, a former Treasury employee and head of economic policy at the Party of the Future (another opposition formation), in an article in the digital medium
: “No country uses all the foreign exchange reserves of its Central Bank unless there is a war or a crisis of essential supplies. The truth is that the citizens' money was bet and now it has been lost ”.
Questions that have to do with monetary policy usually never exceed the more specialized fields. However, the question "Where is the $ 128 billion?" it has been installed in the public opinion of Turkey. In recent days it has been among the top searches for Turks on Google, and ranks first in some conservative provinces, traditionally Erdogan's party voting granaries.
“What the government has done deploying policemen and cranes to remove the banners is absolutely ridiculous from the point of view of political communication. It is a very technical issue, but now everyone is talking about it and that is dynamite for Erdogan because it puts the debate on the government's disastrous economic policy ", says political scientist Berk Esen, from Sabanci University:" The voters of the government party they begin to have doubts and, the more people talk about these issues, the more doubts they will have ”.
Indeed, polls indicate a progressive erosion of support for the ruling coalition. And the opposition feels more and more self-confident. In fact, the rest of the parties opposed to Erdogan have also joined the campaign with videos, posters and parliamentary questions inquiring about the Central Bank's reserves. "For the first time we are the ones who set the agenda and we do not act only responding to what Erdogan says," boasts another CHP source.
However, the opposition faces numerous obstacles. In the coming days, a vote will be taken in Parliament to lift the immunity of eight CHP deputies, including its leader, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu; two from the pro-Kurdish formation HDP and one independent, to face legal proceedings that could lead to prison. Also Canan Kaftancioglu, provincial head of the CHP in Istanbul and one of the party's rising leaders, could go to jail if the Supreme Court does not invalidate a nine-year prison sentence for his publications on social networks. Even so, the Social Democratic leader remains defiant: “I must tell you that you must keep your cranes, your agents and your court orders ready. Tonight we will hang up the banners again. Let's see who is the
"You or the people's party?"