Istanbul mayor cuts funding to pro-AKP groups as city spending comes under scrutiny

The misuse of state funds has been a central issue in Turkey since this spring’s municipal elections. Istanbul’s new opposition Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, who won both that vote and a do-over election on June 23, is now following through on campaign promises to audit expenditures and cut wasteful spending.

On Aug. 27 Imamoglu, of the nation’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), announced his administration would cancel the transfer of 357 million liras (about $61.5 million) to a number of controversial state-linked foundations. Much of the funding was directed toward food expenditures and the construction of facilities for one of the foundations, expenses Imamoglu called “unbelievable” during a press conference.

“Where do you spend this nation’s money?” Imamoglu asked on Tuesday. “A building was constructed to be handed over to a foundation. It costs 165 million liras. That building now belongs to Istanbulites.”

The targeted foundations have benefited from state resources under the 25-year rule of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Istanbul. The move to cut their funding marks an apparent shift toward more transparent governance brought on by opposition gains across the country during the March elections.

Such reforms come as alleged evidence of wasteful spending accumulates in southeast Turkey, where several mayors with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have been dismissed after promising to conduct similar investigations into municipal expenditures. As the spending practices of past and present AKP officials come under increased scrutiny, observers say the ruling party that once cast itself as incorruptible appears to be losing the moral high ground among Turkish voters.

“Having encountered numerous corruption allegations, the AKP no longer has a clean image and is having difficulty persuading even its own voters that it can provide clean governance,” Berk Esen, an assistant professor for international relations at Bilkent University in Ankara, told Al-Monitor.

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