Erdogan has stopped short of announcing a full lockdown across Turkey, mainly for economic reasons — especially as the country emerged from a recession triggered by a 2018 currency crisis. He reiterated on Wednesday that Ankara was determined to continue production and exports.
Turkey’s confirmed coronavirus cases jumped to 13,531 on Tuesday, making it the 10th worst-affected country in the world with 214 deaths.
The Turkish president’s comments came amid a rekindled rivalry with Istanbul’s opposition mayor as disputes over fundraising, with the central government in Ankara terming Ekrem Imamoglu’s money-raising campaign illegal and threatening to prosecute those involved.
Seen as a possible future candidate for the presidency, Mayor Imamoglu launched a campaign this week with the slogan, “We will succeed together”, seeking cash and other donations from wealthier Turks for hundreds of thousands of those in need.
Erdogan, on the other hand, has insisted that Turkey should “keep wheels turning” in the economy and that people continue going to work.
In retaliation, the president launched a rival “National Solidarity” campaign, promising seven months of his salary to the cause. Various state institutions, firms, and politicians made contributions and the president condemned the municipal campaigns on Wednesday.
“There is no sense in having a state within a state,” he told AKP officials in a televised video conference, saying nobody had the right to raise funds aside from the presidency.
Turkey’s Interior Ministry said Imamoglu’s campaign contravened a law requiring that permission be sought from authorities before collecting money for the needy and said it would act against those responsible.
The rivalry is about much more than money-raising, though.
Imamoglu wants a lockdown in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city with 16 million people, to slow the spread of coronavirus, while Erdogan — who has adopted some other containment measures — is resisting such a move to cushion the economic pain.
Ankara has halted all international flights, limited domestic travel, closed schools, bars, and cafes, and suspended mass prayers and sports fixtures to counter the outbreak. But people are still going to work as Erdogan seeks to sustain economic production and exports.
In addition, two leading union confederations earlier called for a halt to all but emergency work and for measures to be implemented to support workers. “All work should be stopped for a minimum of 15 days except for the production of essential and emergency goods and services,” TURK-IS Chairperson Ergun Atalay said in a statement.
Atalay had also called for a ban on layoffs for the duration of the pandemic and said income support should be provided to all workers who are experiencing loss of work and income.
The DISK union confederation issued an identical statement.
Imamoglu said he has not discussed the pandemic with Erdogan since the first case was reported in Turkey on March 11, though he said “we would like to” share information.
“Istanbul is clearly now the fundamental center of this disease,” Imamoglu told FOX TV. “If just 15% of people go out in Istanbul, that is 2.5 million people — as much as the (entire population of some) cities in Europe which are lamenting their situation.”
Imamoglu, associated with the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), dealt Erdogan the worst electoral setback of his career when he beat a candidate from the ruling AK Party in a mayoral vote a year ago, and later logged an even bigger victory in a re-run.
He has since repeatedly locked horns with the central government on issues such as funding and an Istanbul canal project. Now Istanbul — with nearly a fifth of Turkey’s population — is central to the fight against the pandemic.
In response to the money-raising campaign, state banks blocked donation accounts run by both Istanbul and the municipality of Ankara, where a CHP mayor was also elected last year, and which also launched a local fundraising campaign.
The Istanbul municipality said Wednesday it had launched a court case seeking to lift the block on its accounts and revive the fundraising campaign.
Eleven mayors from CHP-run cities issued a joint statement calling for the Interior Ministry to reverse its move, saying it was a time to put politics aside and avoid polarisation.
Separately, Istanbul has filed a legal complaint about what it said were orchestrated social media posts accusing the city council of allowing overcrowding on public transport that undermined the fight against the coronavirus.