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Turkey’s Removal of Opposition Mayor Signals Further Clampdown

Turkish Interior Ministry has removed mayor of Besiktas, a secular stronghold of main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in Istanbul, on charges of corruption and links to Gulen Movement, a move that would stir up social resentment among disgruntled secular segments of the society.

CHP Mayor Murat Hazinedar and Besiktas City Council members Avni Sipahi, Cetin Kirisgil were all removed from their posts by the Ministry.

“This is a government plot. Our Chairman will fight this through legal channels,” CHP spokesman Bulent Tezcan said on behalf of the party in the initial reaction.

The action against CHP mayors has long loomed large since the removal of Atasehir Mayor Battal Ilgezdi in early December, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s threat a month before.

In early December, the Turkish media reported that investigations have been launched into six CHP mayors over corruption charges, which the main opposition party deemed as politically motivated.

CHP Mayor Murat Hazinedar said a travel ban on imposed for his family members.

“Today’s action was not entirely unexpected but highlights two ugly truths. First, the vast majority of Turkish citizens no longer are governed at the local level by leaders that they themselves elected,” POMED nonresident senior fellow Howard Eissenstat told The Globe Post Turkey.

“Second, that the crackdown on opposition can still get much, much worse,” he added, expressing his concerns over what might follow. “A broader campaign against the main opposition party, or the unraveling of what remains of representative local governance, would have devastating repercussions for Turkey.”

Besiktas is an affluent district in Istanbul, a bastion of secular CHP base. It also hosts a soccer stadium for Besiktas football club whose leading fan group Carsi was one of the paramount groups that formed the backbone of Gezi movement and protests during 2013 summer.

Carsi members face still lasting criminal investigations for attempting to topple the government that year, charges that were regarded as politically driven by rights groups and critics.

The Besiktas mayor called for a mass rally in front of the municipality on Thursday evening. His removal would touch off a new round of protests by the dispirited opposition, but what could happen still remains to be seen.

The move coincided with a prison sentence against pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP) senior lawmaker Idris Baluken on Thursday. The Diyarbakir 8th High Criminal Court sentenced the politician 16 years and eight months in prison on charges of “terror organization membership” and “terror propaganda,” dealing a heavy blow to the political party whose thousands of members face legal investigations.

“The Turkish government’s targeting of CHP mayors is the continuation of Erdogan’s campaign to criminalize Turkey’s opposition parties that first began with HDP lawmakers and mayors before moving on to CHP officials,” Aykan Erdemir, a former CHP lawmaker and currently a fellow with Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), told The Globe Post Turkey.

After the collapse of a fragile truce between Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish security forces in 2015 following an inconclusive parliamentary election on June 7, the Turkish government has stepped up its efforts to curb all forms of dissent in the region and replaced scores of mayors with government-appointed trustees to govern Kurdish-run municipalities.

The political pressure unraveled into a full-blown clampdown in the aftermath of a failed coup in 2016 summer. And this summer, fist lawmaker from CHP was jailed on espionage charges.

For Mr. Erdemir, the latest removal of an opposition mayor “is yet another proof that Erdogan has no respect either for the rule of law or for the votes of the electorate.”

Following Erdogan’s ruthless crackdown on Turkey’s opposition across the political spectrum, he argued, it is difficult to imagine that Turkey can have free and fair elections in the local, general, and presidential elections scheduled to be held in 2019.

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