By Ezgi Erkoyun
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party spent 80 million lira ($13 million) in three years on an Istanbul city website, the ousted opposition mayor said on Wednesday, part of what he said was a wider misspending of billions of lira of public money.
Ekrem Imamoglu, from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), served less than three weeks as mayor after his narrow victory over the AKP in March was annulled two weeks ago following appeals by Erdogan’s party.
The decision to re-run the vote on June 23 has brought international criticism and accusations from Turkey’s opposition of eroding democracy. It has also unnerved financial markets and thrown a spotlight on the AKP’s management of Turkey’s largest city and commercial hub during its long years in power.
Preparing for the second vote, Imamoglu has sought to highlight alleged extravagance and waste under the AKP which, together with its Islamist predecessor parties, has ruled Istanbul with a budget of nearly $4 billion annually for a quarter century.
“80 million lira were spent on Istanbul municipality’s website in three years,” Imamoglu told a news conference, setting the tone for his new campaign for election in the re-run. “We could set up websites for all of Turkey’s municipalities with this money.”
An AK Party election official could not immediately be contacted for comment and the party’s spokesman did not address Imamoglu’s claims in a news conference later on Wednesday.
Istanbul municipality has previously defended its record and denied specific accusations that it overspent on cars for management, saying some of the vehicles were used by employees of vital services including the city’s waterworks.
Imamoglu’s surprise victory in March, by just 13,000 votes from a turnout of nearly 9 million voters, was challenged by the AKP and annulled by electoral authorities who said some polling stations did not have the right officials monitoring voting – a violation they ruled may have swayed the result.
He said that during the 18 days he held office the municipality already cut water and transport fees, and pledged to overhaul a system he said had benefited only a few people.
“We will change this system of waste together. Istanbul Municipality is not the property of a handful of people,” he said, without specifying whom he was accusing.
“I have been in the office for 18 days and you see how jealous some people are, they would crack in 1,800 days,” Imamoglu said, referring to the mayor’s five-year term.
Istanbul’s debt increased 4.5 times to 27 billion lira since 2014 while its annual budget deficit ballooned 20-fold to 4 billion lira, Imamoglu said.
If the budget were properly managed, around 5 billion lira could be saved and spent on residents, he said, promising to spend on education, support for poor households and green spaces.
“Do not lose your hope, we will win this election again, once more, do not give up,” Imamoglu said in remarks addressed to supporters.
(Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Dominic Evans and Andrew Cawthorne)