“Where is President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan?” many people on Turkish social media have been asking as Turkey’s strongman, who usually makes daily speeches that dominate nearly all the television channels, has not been seen in public since Friday.
The president, who has led Turkey since 2003, was last seen in public after Friday prayers when he talked to reporters about tensions over hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean and the Istanbul mayoral election.
Media had reported that Erdoğan would address a series of rallies in all of Istanbul’s 39 districts ahead of the rerun for the vote for a new mayor on June 23. But Mehmet Acet, a columnist for the pro-government Yeni Şafak newspaper, said on Monday that the ruling party had changed its campaign strategy to focus more on its candidate, Binali Yıldırım.
Acet said the ruling party had altered its plans as its strategists had concluded the secular main opposition was using the election campaign to target the president. Abdülkadir Selvi, a columnist for the Hürriyet newspaper known for his close ties to Erdoğan, also said the president would take a back seat in the campaign.
Opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu said on Tuesday that Erdoğan’s mass rallies had been cancelled and the president’s photos had been removed from his party’s visual materials.
Erdoğan held mass rallies across Turkey ahead of the nationwide local elections on March 31, which analysts said was a mistake as he sidelined his party’s candidates. Erdoğan’s Islamist party lost control of a number of big cities, but objected to the apparent opposition win in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, on the grounds of what it said were polling irregularities and the electoral authority ordered that vote be held again.
Now many on social media are questioning whether Erdoğan is sick or whether there is another reason for his disappearance from the public eye.
Kemal Can, a columnist for the opposition news site Duvar, said on Wednesday that withdrawing Erdoğan from the election campaign could either be a tactical attempt to weaken the opposition, or an attempt to protect Erdoğan from the fallout of an election defeat in Istanbul.