Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Chairman Devlet Bahçeli has expressed support for an investigation into İstanbul Municipality staff members over alleged terrorist links, saying the mayor should be removed from office if he is found guilty of complicity in their hiring, the pro-MHP Türkgün daily reported on Thursday.
The Interior Ministry claimed on Dec. 26 that 557 municipal employees hired by İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu had links to “terrorist groups,” including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, (PKK) the Marxist–Leninist Communist Party, (MLKP) and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C).
The ministry also claimed that some people reportedly had links to US-based preacher Fethullah Gülen and the movement inspired by him. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been accusing the Gülen movement of masterminding a failed coup attempt in 2016 and terrorism. The movement denies any involvement in the coup bid or any terrorist activity.
“The Interior Ministry is right to conduct an investigation. … The allegations against the İstanbul Municipality are serious. … Wouldn’t the person who turned a blind eye to [their links to terrorism] and approved their employment be deemed to have committed a crime? Anybody who hires terrorists at the municipality has no place there,” Bahçeli told Türkgün on Thursday, referring to İmamoğlu.
When asked whether he wanted İmamoğlu to be removed from office, Bahçeli said: “Of course, he should be removed from his job if he is [found] guilty, and the city council should elect a new president. This is no joke. … İstanbul cannot be handed over to terrorist organizations.”
One should be careful when speaking about an institution that has more than 86,000 employees, İmamoğlu had previously said, commenting on the probe that was launched after Erdoğan accused him on Sunday of hiring people with terrorist links, adding that if terrorists can walk free and find jobs in public institutions, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu should resign due to his failure to take action.
Mayor İmamoğlu has been one of the most frequently targeted figures by Erdoğan and his government since the 2019 local elections saw the ruling party defeated in several big cities.
İmamoğlu, the CHP candidate in the elections who initially won in local polls on March 31 by a narrow margin against ruling party candidate Binali Yıldırım, scored a much larger victory during a re-run on June 23.
İmamoglu has since become one of the most popular opposition politicians in the country. Many see him as the opposition’s likely candidate for the presidency against Erdoğan in the next elections.