Over the past two weeks, Turkey has seen a cascade of resignations of a coterie of metropolitan city mayors representing the ruling Justice and Development Party who were forced to quit their posts despite their own will after facing tremendous pressure from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Just recently, mayor of the western province of Balikesir told media that he decided to resign after receiving threats to his family.
The replacement of elected mayors with others designated by the party leadership outside municipal elections unsettled the political landscape and left even most ardent party loyalists shuddering over the aggressiveness of the move. Observers billed forceful replacement of mayors within a party against their will as an unprecedented political move in the modern history.
But on Thursday, President Erdogan even signaled expanding further the interference in municipal politics. He threatened to take action against mayors from other political parties as well, telling reporters on a plane while returning from Azerbaijan about widespread claims of corruption and mismanagement.
Mr. Erdogan’s latest vow reveals that his purge of mayors won’t be limited to the party he found and leads, but it will also be extended to other parties as well.
“As AKP, we are planning how to prepare for March 2019 [municipal elections]. Our steps should be assessed within the regard of that plan,” the president said about the ongoing controversy over replacement of mayors.
Mr. Erdogan harbored particular resentment over the poor performance of major cities in April referendum about the transition to the presidential system as ruling AKP, for the first time since 1994 local elections, got fewer votes in Istanbul and Ankara.
Mayors of both cities resigned. Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek dragged his foot for two weeks before finally subduing to the building pressure on him.
Although the president said other political parties and their mayors was none of his business, he still signaled a possible ministerial and judicial action against them if those parties fail to do something about their mayors.
The latest move against AKP mayors is unrelated to a previous crackdown against Kurdish mayors in the southeast where the Turkish authorities appointed new administrators to Kurdish-held municipalities. Dozens of People’s Democracy Party (HDP) mayors are behind bars, while at least a dozen of lawmakers from the same party is jailed pending trial.
The president called on other parties in Parliament, secular main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), to take action against their “corrupt mayors” or expect a ministerial action.
His threat represents a new high-water mark of governmental intervention to shape local governments and local politics.