At first glance, it seems that the row over bureaucracy started with a Twitter video message by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Turkish main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). He called on bureaucrats on October 16, with a slightly threatening tone that from October 18, Monday on they should not sign the “illegal requests” of President Tayyip Erdoğan; otherwise, they will be held responsible in future, too. The exact words of Kılıçdaroğlu are as follows:
• “You are honorable officers of this state, not the Erdoğan family. This is the last call from your elder brother, or uncle Kılıçdaroğlu [recalling his past as a retired bureaucrat-MY] for you: As of Monday, October 18th, you will be responsible for all your support for the illegal demands of this system. You can’t get away with this dirty work by saying ‘I have received orders’. Whatever is being done to you illegally, stop as of Monday. Get your hands off these illegal parallel systems.”
President Erdoğan responded harshly to this on October 17, before his departure to Angola, saying that Kılıçdaroğlu had accused civil servants of threats and called them to disobedience and that was a crime. Erdoğan’s words are as follows:
• “Calling on the bureaucracy to oppose the specially elected government is nothing but a call for poliştical tutelage. Kılıçdaroğlu’s threat to public officials is also clearly a crime. How could you threaten the officials of this country? Now he gives a date. Let’s see what he will do. Mr. Kemal, this field is not empty. There is a government that defends the rights of all people.”
I will not get into detail that Erdoğan’s read his answers to the questions of two reporters from the pro-government media, from his notes as if he was waiting for those questions to be asked. And his answers were almost identical to what the AKP Spokesperson Ömer Çelik said the night before. Even the appearance of this question being asked privately shows Erdoğan’s discomfort with Kılıçdaroğlu’s call on bureaucracy.
In the backdrop of this row, there is an accumulation of nearly two years.
Local elections marked a turning point
The turning point was the 2019 local elections. The alliance between Kılıçdaroğlu and the Good Party (IYI) leader Meral Akşener against Erdoğan and MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli worked. CHP took important metropolitan mayorships, especially in Istanbul and Ankara. This damaged Erdoğan’s image of invincibility since the 2002 elections. CHP municipalities did not touch employees because of their headscarves as the AK Party had thought. But they started to cut the resources of associations and foundations of religious groupings that were generously provided with the support of the AK Party. When Mansur Yavaş first in Ankara, then Ekrem İmamoğlu and other municipalities in Istanbul started broadcasting the tenders live via the internet, Erdoğan had to ask his AKP municipalities to do the same.
In that process, some disturbances began to emerge in the bureaucracy and, indeed, in the public sector in general. The emergence of bureaucrats and politicians who became wealthy during the AK Party period and who received three or five salaries in addition to the investors, most of whom were construction and tradesmen, spread the perception of a “new happy minority”, or the “AK Elites”. The Kovit epidemic deepened the trouble in the economy, the cost of living and livelihood difficulties of the man, or the woman on the street also affect the AKP and MHP base, but it was seen that a small group close to the Administration was not affected by this and continued to pomp.
Information leaks from the bureaucracy also began to emerge in this period. The media and opposition parties outside the government’s control began to speak out against irregularities and corruption claims more loudly. The decline of the AKP and MHP in the surveys led to the tendency of some of the public employees to secure their carrier in the future. In fact, two points that Erdoğan complained about in particular during the press conference I partly quoted above: CHP municipalities and polls; It is clear that these issues were on his mind.
Speculations at the political backstage
Kılıçdaroğlu’s warning to the bureaucracy on 16 October came right after his surprise visit to the Central Bank on 15 October.
There were contradictory interpretations about those two moves in the political backstage. Some support the opinion that Kılıçdaroğlu has reversed the positive effect he displayed with his visit to the Central Bank with this bureaucratic outburst, and that he will no longer receive a positive response to his requests for face-to-face meetings with the heads of the state agencies. Some, on the contrary, speculate that especially the upper-middle level bureaucrats, who usually feel the winds of change better than anyone else, may try to keep their chairs after a possible change in power.
In another aspect, there is this slogan of Akşener: “We are not against the project, but against the rent”, which is on the billboards of the cities these days. Kılıçdaroğlu’s message to the bureaucracy is that if Erdoğan goes and the opposition Nation Alliance comes to power, means that they will not touch anyone who does not work against us or cover up corruption. Akşener gives a similar message to business circles. Akşener’s words have a double meaning. First, she answers to Erdoğan’s rhetoric of “the opposition are against projects, thus aiming at calming down the business world, especially construction and energy contractors. The second is the “Stop putting all your eggs into Erdoğan’s basket” message to business circles; this may affect the support from the business circles to the AKP and MHP.
Kılıçdaroğlu’s bureaucracy move also aims to step on Erdoğan’s calluses and push him to make mistakes. Almost immediately, the social media was flooded with Erdoğan’s similar call on bureaucracy some twenty years ago when he was at the opposition. Kılıçdaroğlu’s statement that he would set the date of October 18 as a milestone -of course, if he comes to power- is one of his surprise moves. We will see the results in practice and in surveys.
And the İmamoğlu factor
Another dimension is the country tours of İmamoğlu, the Mayor of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, which led to the perception of a presidential candidacy campaign. That is despite Kılıçdaroğlu’s previous statement – referring to Yavaş and him – “Let them stay in the municipality for another term“. The last example of this was seen over the weekend. İmamoğlu’s show off in Diyarbakır (and Elazığ), ostensibly for the launch of painter Ahmet Güneştekin’s exhibition, would probably have garnered wider media attention had it not been for Kılıçdaroğlu’s moves of the Central Bank, and subsequently his call on the bureaucracy.
This situation can be interpreted in two ways. At first, it shows that İmamoğlu’s has put his presidential candidacy in mind, no matter what Kılıçdaroğlu says. If so, this will affect both Kılıçdaroğlu’s position within the CHP and the CHP-IYI, the Nation Alliance. The second comment is that İmamoğlu had the opportunity to build bridges with the voters in the east and southeast, especially regarding the Kurdish voters with his pop-star effect, whom the CHP could not speak out for many years. According to this view, as a result, Kılıçdaroğlu did not say that İmamoğlu or Yavaş that cannot be a candidate, but he left the choice of a joint candidate to a consensus within the Nation Alliance, especially with Akşener. Of course, we can say that İmamoğlu at least has revived the debate and does not want to let the possibility of being a candidate fall from the agenda. His “We can do in Turkey what we can do in Istanbul” statement fits both situations.
While looking at the background of recent moves of Kılıçdaroğlu, it would not be possible to ignore the effects of İmamoğlu and Akşener.
It is a complicated picture, yes, but what are not these days?