Turkey's opposition leader loses power over unpaid bills

AFP , Thursday 21 Apr 2022

Turkey's main opposition leader said Thursday that his power supply had been cut at home after he stopped paying electricity bills in protest at sharp utility bill hikes.

Erdogan
Turkish President and leader of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Recep Tayyip Erdogan gives a speech during a party parliamentary group meeting at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (GNAT) in Ankara, Turkey, on April 20, 2022. AFP

Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the secular Republican People's Party (CHP) has seized on Turkey's social and economic turmoil to try and mount a serious challenge to veteran President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in elections due by June 2023.

The 73-year-old former civil servant announced in February that he would stop paying "inflated" bills that had shot up by at least half for most households as a result of inflation and a sharp currency depreciation.

Economists link Turkey's social problems to Erdogan's unconventional economic views.

The Turkish leader has pushed the central bank to sharply cut interest rates in order to bring down soaring consumer prices -- the exact opposite of what policymakers usually do in similar situations.

Turkey's official annual inflation reading has soared to more than 60 percent as a result.

Some of those increases are linked to a lira collapse that has made imports such as oil and gas much more expensive.

Kilicdaroglu announced on Twitter on Thursday that he now had no lights on at home.

"I just got news from my wife -- they cut off our electricity today," Kilicdaroglu said in a video message recorded from his well-lit office.

"My actions are not a call to civil disobedience," he added. "My actions are meant to represent the voice of families and children of a country that has been left in the dark."

Erdogan and his Islamic-rooted party have accused Kilicdaroglu of trying to stir up street protests and social upheaval by refusing to pay his bills.

Next year's general election is turning into one of the most serious challenges yet to Erdogan's dominant 20-year rule.

The 68-year-old leader has seen his once overwhelming support implode in the past year.

Russia's assault on Ukraine has shifted some of the focus away from Turkey's economic problems and onto Erdogan's efforts to try and mediate an end to the brutal conflict.

Turkey's chilly relations with Washington have also improved as a result.

But opinion polls -- while not always trustworthy in Turkey -- still show Erdogan trailing most potential presidential challengers.

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