Erdoğan silent as Turkey’s far-right leader defends mob boss over threat to opposition leader

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Nationalist MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. AFP PHOTOS

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has remained silent as his election ally, Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), defended notorious Turkish mafia boss Alaattin Çakıcı after he threatened the country’s main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

The mafia boss on Tuesday told Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kılıçdaroğlu to “watch his step” in a handwritten statement including threats of physical violence that was released on Twitter after Kılıçdaroğlu criticized Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government for releasing Çakıcı.

As a result of Bahçeli’s pressure on Erdoğan, Çakıcı was released on April 16 as part of an amnesty releasing up to one-third of Turkey’s prison population to ease overcrowding during the coronavirus pandemic while excluding political prisoners.

The 67-year-old Çakıcı, who is known for his close ties to Bahçeli, had been convicted of establishing and leading a criminal organization, ordering a murder, instigating assault and insulting Erdoğan. The MHP leader visited him when he fell ill in prison in 2018 and met with him following his release in April.

Bahçeli also took to Twitter on Wednesday to defend the mafia boss against Kılıçdaroğlu’s “collaborators” who he claimed were trying to smear Çakıcı, saying that he and the mob leader believed in the same cause.

“1-Alaattin Çakıcı is the son of an ‘ülkücü’ martyr of ours. 2- Alaattin Çakıcı is an ‘ülkücü’ with a love for his country and nation. 3- He is my comrade,” the MHP leader said in a tweet.

The Turkish word “ülkücü” refers to a member of the ultranationalist Grey Wolves, which have recently been banned in France.

Kılıçdaroğlu on Wednesday appealed to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office and complained about Çakıcı’s remarks through his attorney Celal Çelik, who announced the incident on social media, saying they would “hold him [Çakıcı] to account for the impudence.”

In a statement to the press the same day, the CHP leader warned that the state can become a criminal organization in a place where there is no rule of law.

“When I criticize Erdoğan, Bahçeli responds. When I criticize Bahçeli, a leader of the underworld responds. Look at what Turkey has come to! We don’t know the exact nature of the relationship he [Çakıcı] has with Bahçeli, but this [threat] is not something that we should take seriously,” he added.

Following Kılıçdaroğlu’s statement, Çakıcı shared another open letter on social media, insulting and threatening the politician again. “Get Bahçeli’s name out of your mouth. Rather than speaking like a woman, gave me killed if you have the guts,” the mob boss said.

The silence of Erdoğan and members of his AKP government in the face of these developments has overshadowed the president’s recent pledges, which have been echoed by his justice minister, for sweeping economic and judicial reforms that are meant to restore investor confidence in Turkey’s battered economy.

“The optimists who wanted to give Erdoğan the benefit of the doubt following his promise of legal reform must now realize that this was yet another empty promise of his,” Aykan Erdemir, a former CHP deputy who heads the Turkey program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank, told Al-Monitor.

In the meantime, AKP deputy group chairman Bülent Turan announced later on Thursday that prosecutors have launched an investigation into Çakıcı due to his remarks about Kılıçdaroğlu.

“The prosecutor’s office has taken the necessary action. This is what I learned from the authorities,” he said.

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