Already existing concerns about whether Turkey will be able to hold a free and fair election on May 14 deepened after an opposition politician was prevented from holding an election rally in eastern Turkey on Sunday, with protestors attacking his campaign bus with rocks.
Protesters pelted İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu’s campaign bus with stones on Sunday while he was touring Turkey’s conservative province of Erzurum ahead of next weekend’s general election.
İmamoğlu was delivering a speech from the bus’s roof when he was forced to take cover and drive off. Several people sustained minor injuries during the attack.
İmamoğlu is campaigning on behalf of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the joint presidential candidate of an opposition alliance.
The attack on İmamoğlu’s campaign bus and the failure of law enforcement to prevent it have alarmed opposition politicians, who described it as a provocation.
İmamoğlu, who will serve as one of several vice presidents if Kılıçdaroğlu is elected, was welcomed by thousands of supporters at Sabiha Gökçen Airport in Istanbul on Sunday evening.
The mayor said the group that attacked his bus had been provoked.
CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu, the main rival of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is seeking reelection on May 14, released a video message following the incident in Erzurum, saying the aim of the attack was to intimidate people and dissuade them from voting.
He said there is a price for trying to bring change to the country and that the opposition is ready to pay that price while calling on everyone to concentrate on the election.
Opinion surveys show Kılıçdaroğlu running neck-and-neck with Erdoğan or defeating him.
Leader of the İYİ (Good) Party Meral Akşener said neither stones nor bullets could prevent the people from expressing their will, while Gelecek (Future) Party leader Ahmet Davutoğlu held Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government responsible for the attack on İmamoğlu’s campaign bus.
“Both the perpetrator and the mastermind of this attack is the dirty government,” tweeted Davutoğlu.
Another opposition politician, Ali Babacan, condemned the attack in Erzurum while calling on prosecutors to take action against the perpetrators as well as the authorities who turned a blind eye to it.
Akşener, Davutoğlu and Babacan are part of the Nation Alliance, which nominated Kılıçdaroğlu as their joint presidential candidate in an attempt to end Erdoğan’s two-decade rule.
Meanwhile, local authorities and government officials denied any responsibility for the attack and their failure to prevent it, using an accusatory language toward the İstanbul mayor.
Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said İmamoğlu, who he said had called the people of Erzurum “provocateurs,” was himself a provocateur.
Contrary to the minister’s claim, however, İmamoğlu tweeted earlier that the incident on Sunday had nothing to do with the people of Erzurum.
İmamoğlu accused Soylu of being “dishonest” and a “liar” because of his accusations concerning the people of Erzurum.
DEVA Party politician Mustafa Yeneroğlu accused Soylu of provoking people to commit a crime and protecting criminals. He said the only thing Soylu should talk about is why he failed to protect İmamoğlu and the people who took part in his rally.
Erzurum Mayor Mehmet Sekmen also did not accept any responsibility for the attack, claiming that it was İmamoğlu’s supporters who stoned his campaign bus.
The incident in Erzurum, one of the strongholds of the AKP, underscored the tensions surrounding next Sunday’s parliamentary and presidential elections.