Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has prohibited mayors from meeting with diplomats face-to-face or speaking over the phone with them without permission from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, local media reported on Tuesday, citing an opposition lawmaker.
Following reports that the İstanbul Governor’s Office sent a notice to the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality about the issue, Seyit Torun, deputy chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), on Tuesday confirmed in a written press statement that meetings and phone calls between mayors and members of foreign missions including ambassadors, chargés d’affaires and consuls general as well as representatives of international organizations would be subject to permission granted by the Foreign Ministry.
“Our mayors aren’t the officials of the palace [President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan], [and] they aren’t the servants of the government. … Trying to cut off the communication of our mayors with the world is an indication of the fear of an oppressive administration that will soon lose power. … Our municipalities will never bow to this prohibitive, oppressive mentality,” Torun said.
İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu from the CHP also condemned the decision banning mayors from meeting with foreign diplomats without the permission of the Foreign Ministry, saying in a speech that the ban showed nothing but the “rotten state of the central administration in the eyes of the society.”
The ban comes after İmamoğlu instead of Erdoğan represented Turkey at several events abroad within the past few years, including the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) the mayor attended in November 2021 and the Munich Security Conference (MSC) he participated in back in February.
The move was criticized by many for being aimed at preventing Turkish mayors, especially İmamoğlu and Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş, also from the CHP, who are potential presidential candidates for the 2023 elections, from gaining popularity abroad.
Survey results frequently show Erdoğan being defeated by each of his potential rivals, İmamoğlu and Yavaş, in a possible presidential election scenario in which one of them is running against the incumbent president.