Ahval News:  Istanbul mayor, gov’t at loggerheads over city’s cheap bread programme

An initiative by the Istanbul  municipality to provide affordable bread to residents of Turkey’s most populous city is at the heart of a political tug-of-war between the opposition on the side and the government and producers on the other.

 

The city is seeing long queues in front of the İstanbul Halk Ekmek A.Ş. kiosks set up throughout the city amid soaring inflation that has spiked food prices.

 

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Food price inflation in the country has surged to six-year highs this year, led by corn, rice and wheat.

 

While the programme for Halk Ekmek’s cheaper bread – half the price of regular shops – is welcomed by the city’s some 18 million residents, producers and the government are accusing Istanbul’s opposition mayor of creating unfair competition and using the initiative for political gain.

 

The Istanbul Bread Producers Association has questioned the sincerity of Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu in his efforts to provide cheap or free bread to those in need and has submitted a petition to the Istanbul Governor’s Office.

 

 

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“Handing out free bread to citizens in neighbourhoods and alleyways is not the way to go in providing services to citizens through bread,’’ Sözcü newspaper cited the petition as saying on Monday.

 

Pointing out that there are 3,000 bakeries in Istanbul, the association said a majority of them already have a practice of providing free bread to those who need it.

 

The soaring demand for the staple item led İmamoğlu in recent months to push for over 140 more Halk Ekmek kiosks in the city, a proposal that was downvoted twice at the municipal council, controlled by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and coalition partner far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

 

The municipality responded by distributing bread via rented vans, a short-lived project due to the subsequent sales ban of bread “outdoors’’ by the Turkish Agriculture Ministry.

 

The council last month eventually agreed to the kiosks, but placed harsh stipulations on who would qualify for the cheaper bread, news site Gazete Duvar reported.

 

Meanwhile, bread sales at Halk Ekmek have soared from around 800,000 loaves a day in November to 2.5 million loaves of bread, Özgen Nama, deputy chairman of Halk Ekmek, told Sözcü newspaper on Jan. 25.

 

Meanwhile, İmamoğlu has vowed to push forth and expand the project.

 

“We would like to announced to Istanbulites that we will recognize no barrier in our bread mission and fighting poverty,’’ Cumhuriyet newspaper cited İmamoğlu as saying last month

 

The Halk Ekmek project dates back to 1977. The project maintained a successful run during Erdogan’s time as mayor of Istanbul  between 1994-1998 and has been overseen by the main opposition party since İmamoğlu’s election in 2019.

 

 

Mr Erdogan never accepted the defeat his party suffered in metropolitan centers of Turkey in 2019 local elections, which severed the patronage life-line of AKP to poor constituencies.  Since their elections CHP mayors of Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Adana have been constantly harassed, stopped and sued by AKP and filibustered in their won provincial assemblies by the AKP-MHP majority. Despite these obstacles, all of these mayors rank among top performing local officials in numerous polls.

 

Erdogan’s attempt to stop even cheap bread sales to Istanbul, where up to 50% of the population may have temporarily been pushed below the poverty line because of the Covid-19 epidemic attests to his ruthless character and may even suggest that one of the greatest populist leaders of the 21st Century is losing touch with his people.

 

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Published By: Atilla Yeşilada

GlobalSource Partners’ Turkey Country Analyst Atilla Yesilada is the country’s leading political analyst and commentator. He is known throughout the finance and political science world for his thorough and outspoken coverage of Turkey’s political and financial developments. In addition to his extensive writing schedule, he is often called upon to provide his political expertise on major radio and television channels. Based in Istanbul, Atilla is co-founder of the information platform Istanbul Analytics and is one of GlobalSource’s local partners in Turkey. In addition to his consulting work and speaking engagements throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East, he writes regular columns for Turkey’s leading financial websites VATAN and www.paraanaliz.com and has contributed to the financial daily Referans and the liberal daily Radikal.