Turkish opposition leader's flat goes dark over unpaid bills

·3-min read

Turkey's opposition leader said Thursday that his power supply had been cut after he stopped paying electricity bills in protest at soaring prices that he blamed squarely on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the secular Republican People's Party (CHP) has seized on Turkey's economic troubles to try and mount a serious challenge to 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 an unconventional economic approach by Erdogan that has turned the once-promising emerging market into a no-go zone for most foreign investors.

Erdogan has orchestrated sharp interest rates cuts 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 energy imports much more expensive.

Kilicdaroglu told reporters from his dark apartment that "the rich got richer and the poor got poorer" during Erdogan's two-decade rule.

"This action is a resistance, not a call for civil disobedience," Kilicdaroglu said in the televised media event.

His apartment appeared to be lit by a lone kerosene lamp that he placed on a table next to his couch.

"This is my struggle to claim your rights," Kilicdaroglu declared.

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

- Erdogan sues -

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

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

Russia's assault on Ukraine has shifted some of the focus away from Turkey's economic travails 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.

Kilicdaroglu's once-stagnant presidential campaign stirred to life during a winter wave of protests by ordinary Turks who complained of no longer being able to afford everyday staples.

He staged impromptu press conferences outside government buildings and claimed that ministers were either ignoring or under-reporting the scale of Turkey's problems.

His efforts appear to have had some effect on the Turkish leader.

Erdogan's lawyer filed a complaint with an Ankara court on Wednesday demanding one million liras ($70,000) in compensation for damages to the president's "personal rights" caused by Kilicdaroglu's accusations.

But Kilicdaroglu appears unbowed.

His party has unleashed a virulent social media campaign that aims to attract younger voters who once formed a solid base of support for Erdogan.

It published a video Thursday of masked utility workers switching off the power supply to his Ankara apartment.

"Four million families have had their power supply cut off, and we wanted to stand in solidarity with them," Kilicdaroglu's wife Selvi told reporters with a smile on Thursday.

zak/imm

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