(Bloomberg) -- Istanbul’s infamous traffic means that vast seas of idled vehicles are an everyday sight. But the hundreds of cars neatly parked in the neighborhood of Yenikapi have been gathered as an exhibit in the political battle for Turkey.
Fresh from ending the long rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party in the city, the mayor says the ranks of unneeded vehicles that were hired for official use are evidence of its profligacy with public funds.
That at a time when many Turks are being battered by an economy fresh out of a recession, a record-high jobless rate for the time of year and inflation above 15%.
“So this is how they squandered away our money,” said Huseyin Kacar, a 68-year-old pensioner, as he observed the collection. “I’ve been trying to get by with 2,000 liras ($350) a month.” Another visitor, Osman Dogan, said he’d rethink his habit of voting for Erdogan.
The AK Party, which has been ruling the country since 2002, rejects the accusation that the car rentals amounted to waste. “All of these are service vehicles used in the field,” Sabah newspaper cited Tevfik Goksu, a senior municipal official from the ruling party, as saying. Goksu accused Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu of engaging in “black propaganda.”
Imamoglu, who took office in June following a repeat election ordered by the courts after Erdogan complained of irregularities in the first ballot, chose the 670,000-square-meter site carefully. It’s where the president held his political rallies in Istanbul during recent election campaigns before hundreds of thousands of supporters.
Losing the mayor’s office weeks after being ousted in Ankara, the capital, dealt a major blow to Erdogan, who used the job as a springboard to the nation’s top jobs.
As cars were added every few minutes on Friday, the sense of outrage grew and was directed at reporters for pro-government media. One journalist started filming, only to be verbally attacked, with visitors blaming his employer for false coverage of the nation’s woes. The reporter backed away, apparently concerned for his safety.
“When university graduates can’t find a job, a municipality using so many vehicles amounts to a sultanate,” said Mehmet Bektas, who’s 34 and unemployed.
Before taking office, Imamoglu said in a June 3 tweet that the city had shelled out 120 million liras for vehicles it didn’t need. He didn’t give details but appeared to imply that many of them were given to AK Party members for private use.
“I know that society expects social justice,” the 49-year-old politician from the Republican People’s Party, said on Thursday. “We will ensure that.”
Istanbul Greater Municipality, which serves 15 million people, rented 1,717 passenger vehicles, 306 buses and minibuses and 283 trucks and pick-ups, according to the latest annual “performance program” on its website.
A 2017 report by the Court of Accounts had already pointed to potential fraud in the city’s fleet.
Vehicles run by the water board were reportedly consuming a whopping 20 liters of diesel for every 100 kilometers (62 miles) driven, it said. One Renault Clio was using more than 60 liters.
To contact the reporters on this story: Ugur Yilmaz in Istanbul at email@example.com;Taylan Bilgic in Istanbul at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Onur Ant at email@example.com, ;Benjamin Harvey at firstname.lastname@example.org, Mark Williams
For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.