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Head of TurkStat says they denied entry to opposition leader in bid to stay out of politics

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The head of the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) has said that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), was denied entry to TurkStat headquarters earlier this month because the institution needed to stay clear of politics.

The CHP leader’s attempt to get into the headquarters took place on Dec. 3, after TurkStat announced Turkey’s inflation rate, which climbed to 21.31 percent – the highest figure the country has seen in three years – amid claims that TurkState manipulated inflation data for political reasons. When Kılıçdaroğlu arrived, along with several other CHP officials, the security guards refused to let them into the building, saying they couldn’t allow anyone in without an appointment.

“I didn’t want to make TurkState part of a political debate. The institution should stay away from politics and produce Turkey’s most critical data. This is a vital job. That’s why we didn’t meet [with him],” Kemal Öztürk, a columnist for the Habertürk news website, on Monday quoted TurkStat president Sait Erdal Dinçer as saying.

TurkStat president Sait Erdal Dinçer

Responding to Öztürk’s comment that by not meeting with Kılıçdaroğlu the institution created an image as if they had something to hide, which shook people’s trust in them, Dinçer said: “I’ve never been involved in politics in my life, really. … I tried to protect the institution so that it wouldn’t be part of the political discussion. Maybe the results were different [than I expected]. However, it was never my intention to close the institution to the outside [world].”

Dinçer also said Kılıçdaroğlu’s sudden demand to meet with them forced them to postpone their plans to meet with the press and statistics experts, including economy professor Veysel Ulusoy and his team, in December.

Ulusoy leads the Inflation Research Group (ENAG), an independent team established by a group of academics in 2020, and has been announcing alternate inflation rates that are higher than those reported by TurkStat.

While TurkStat reported earlier this month that consumer prices had climbed to 21.31 percent from the same period in November of last year, ENAG reported it to be 58.65 percent.

When asked about the claims that they announce inflation figures lower than they really are under pressure from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Dinçer said: “None of the executives here would accept such an order [by Erdoğan]. … They would object so loudly that even you could hear it.”

TurkStat has been receiving growing criticism from opposition parties and government skeptics for not releasing accurate figures for important statistics such as inflation and unemployment, instead presenting statistics that fail to reflect the market realities. The institute is accused of manipulating the numbers in order to mask the scale of the country’s economic deterioration.

Over the past several years, Turkey has been suffering from backsliding in its economy, with high inflation and unemployment as well as a poor human rights record. Erdoğan is criticized for mishandling the economy, emptying the state’s coffers and establishing one-man rule in the country where dissent is suppressed and opponents are jailed on politically motivated charges.

Since April 2019 the head of TurkStat has been replaced four times by Erdoğan, leading to claims that he was not pleased with the TurkStat figures when they were higher than his expectations.

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