Istanbul opposition mayor faces financial squeeze

ISTANBUL (AFP) – At a half-built metro stop on the outskirts of Istanbul, the diggers have been idle for months, dozens of workers waiting day after day with nothing to do.

The new EUR550 million metro line, started in 2016, was due to connect outlying suburbs on the Asian side of the city to the ferries and sealines in the centre, but has been stalled as the municipality struggles to raise funding.

There were already problems last year, when a currency crash and brief recession hit lenders.

But now the problem appears to be political.

In March, Istanbul fell to the opposition – the first time that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s conservatives had lost power in the city in a quarter-century.

The new administration under Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, of the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), claims Turkish state banks are refusing to finance major investment projects – and blame pressure from Erdogan’s government in Ankara.

“We have seen loans are not given even to fund our daily needs,” Imamoglu told reporters last month.

“I believe this is a result of the psychological impact of (the ruling party) losing its 25-year rule. I still have the faith that this stance and behaviour will change.”

Erdogan does not want Imamoglu to emulate the success he himself enjoyed as mayor of Istanbul in the 1990s, which propelled him to the leadership of the country, said Anthony Skinner of risk assessment firm Verisk Maplecroft.