Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) called provincial muftis from across the country to an emergency meeting in Ankara last week and instructed them and local imams to campaign for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in the run-up to the 2023 elections, the Cumhuriyet daily reported.
The Diyanet normally holds biannual meetings in Ankara attended by provincial muftis from across the country. The latest such meeting took place in June. However, only two months later the muftis were invited to Ankara again for an “emergency” meeting on Aug. 15. Unlike other meetings, no open-to-the-press session was held and there was no final statement at the end of the meeting.
The muftis were reportedly told by Diyanet officials that there is little time left before the elections and that they should go door to door in their districts and tell people to vote for the AKP and Erdoğan in the elections, or else it will not only be the the AKP and Erdoğan but also the imams who will have to bear the consequences of an election defeat.
Muftis are responsible for the religious services in provinces and districts while imams perform the daily religious services in local mosques.
Turkey will hold parliamentary and presidential elections in June 2023. Erdoğan has already announced that he will run as a presidential candidate in the elections.
“We have made great gains. We should not lose them in the upcoming elections,” Diyanet president Ali Erbaş reportedly told the muftis at the meeting.
The attendees were also told they would all bear the consequences if the content of the meeting was leaked to the press.
Some muftis were reportedly unsettled by the meeting, complaining that they were invited to Ankara to spread election propaganda for the AKP.
The Islamic-rooted AKP, which has been ruling Turkey as a single-party government since 2002, is accused of abusing religious values under the pretext of the expanding religious freedoms in the country. Some AKP figures are criticized for fomenting fear among religious voters, claiming they will not be able to practice Islam freely if the AKP is removed from office.