Elections, expense scandals and Women’s Day in Turkish headlines

Pro-government daily Star started the week in full-on election mode with a headline story dedicated to exposing the ills of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

The front-page piece took a CHP district mayor from Istanbul to task for the fleet of 231 rental cars he has kept at a monthly cost of 4 million lira.

The piece includes receipts and documents showing a large number of cars it says were rented by Sarıyer mayor Şükrü Genç’s municipality, a rather poor showing from the politician who campaigned on the promise of using his personal vehicle for his work rather than driving one paid for by the state.

Turkey under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is a world leader in the number of state-owned cars, with the 115,000 owned by the Turkish state compared to 29,195 by the Italian state and 65,000 by the French state.

Star returned to its attack on the opposition on Tuesday with a front-page story taking aim at CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu for condemning government waste as “haram” while apparently ignoring what the newspaper said was 48 million lira spent on luxury car rental in one year by Genç.

Secularist daily BirGün brought the focus back to one of the most eye-catching issues in the pre-election period: the government’s establishment of stalls selling fruit and vegetables to citizens at reduced prices.

The municipal stalls were set up to protect citizens from the impact of price inflation, which had made some staple foods prohibitively expensive for Turks. However, BirGün reported, the government’s initiative has failed to curb price inflation for fruit and vegetables, which it said had reached an annual rate of 59.7 percent.

On Wednesday left-wing daily Sözcü’s front page reported the words of Bülent Arınç, a co-founder and former deputy prime minister of the AKP who has now fallen out of favour with the party’s leaders.

Arınç criticised Erdoğan for calling the local elections a matter vital to Turkey’s survival – a faulty strategy, according to both Arınç and polling company chief İbrahim Uslu, who Sözcü quoted as saying the ruling party was losing votes as a result.

 Arınç also criticised the choice of Mehmet Özhaseki as the AKP’s mayoral candidate for Istanbul. “Nine out of ten people I spoke to would have preferred Ali Babacan as the Ankara candidate,” Sözcü quoted Arınç as saying. Ali Babacan is another veteran AKP politician who served as a deputy prime minister in previous governments.

Meanwhile, pro-government dailies rounded on Kılıçdaroğlu, repeating accusations frequently throw at the opposition leader by the ruling party of collusion with terrorist organisations.

The CHP is broadly under attack for its informal partnership with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which has announced its intention to support CHP candidates in some constituencies.

The AKP has virtually criminalised the HDP for its politicians’ alleged links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an outlawed armed group that has been in armed conflict with the state since launching an insurrection for Kurdish self-rule in 1984.

In this case, five pro-government newspapers launched front-page attacks on Kılıçdaroğlu for contradicting Erdoğan’s claim that the local elections are of existential importance for Turkey, which the president says is under threat from the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a PKK-linked Kurdish militia in northern Syria.

Akşam’s headline summed up the tone of the various newspaper’s response to Kılıçdaroğlu’s remarks: “Kemal is still defending the YPG.”

Arguably the most significant news of the week was an Istanbul court’s acceptance of the 657-page indictment against 16 Turkish citizens accused of orchestrating the 2013 Gezi Park protests as an attempt to overthrow the Turkish government.

The evidence included in the indictment suggests the ruling party views almost any form of independent civil society activism as criminal. Yet the story did not grace any front pages on any side of the political divide until Thursday, when Yeni Şafak ran a story implying U.S. involvement in the Gezi Park “plot”.

The story reported on one of the many wire-tapped phone conversations included in the indictment, this one between a defendant, businessman Osman Kavala, and Yuri Kim, who worked at the time as a political counsellor for the U.S. embassy in Ankara.

The records show that Kim advised Kavala to ask any journalist acquaintances he knew in Washington to pose a question regarding the protests at the State Department’s press briefing. As it happens, the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki did address the issue at the next press briefing, proof, Yeni Şafak implied, of the game being played at Turkey’s expense as foreign officials criticised the country’s heavy-handed police interventions on protesting citizens.

Friday was International Women’s Day, an occasion only commemorated on two front pages including that of BirGün, which devoted five more pages to the “hope and rebellion” the newspaper said Turkish women bring to the country.

Leftist-nationalist daily Aydınlık also commemorated the day with a front-page story on women running in the upcoming local elections as candidates for the anti-imperialist Patriotic Party, which is strongly linked to Aydınlık.

Fundamentalist Islamist daily Yeni Akit also featured a story about the day on its front page, and the newspaper’s coverage of the feminist celebration was very much true to form.

“While the imperialist Western world continues to deceive the people of the world with its “International Women’s Day” ruse, thousands of women rot behind bars in Syria, and hundreds face execution in Egypt,” said the newspaper.

The newspaper went on to accuse “so-called women’s rights advocates” of turning a blind eye to the abuses against Muslim women. It does not offer any reasoning behind its comments.

On the night, police intervened violently on the thousands of women who arrived in central Istanbul to march for Women’s Day, an incident that was reported by no Turkish news channels.

It did make the front page of Cumhuriyet, however, which printed images from the march and attributed the intervention to the ruling party’s “fear of women”.

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