Turkey’s Erdoğan uses Tesla’s Elon Musk as a tool against his political opposition

“Tesla’s owner Elon visited us. Not you, Muharrem.”

Thus Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addressed his most prominent rival, Muharrem İnce, in the run-up to this month’s presidential and general elections, citing the Tesla Inc. chief executive and SpaceX Elon Musk’s meeting with him in late 2017 in Ankara.

Erdoğan made the comment at a rally in Kocaeli province on Sunday.

According to a report by Kurdistan 24, it was the second time since he announced snap polls back in April that Erdoğan proudly used Musk’s sitting down with him as an argument against İnce, a former high school physics teacher and the presidential candidate of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

“Some time ago Elon Musk visited me. The famous Tesla’s owner. Did he visit you? He visited me! I have started meeting with those [like him]. We are talking about the technology of the future,” Erdoğan said during an election rally of his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the northwestern city of Kocaeli.

During his trip to Ankara, Musk had discussed with Erdoğan rocket launches by Turkey’s national satellite firm and cooperation between his companies and Turkish firms. Apart from “high-tech” and “perhaps sending astronauts, etc., into space,” Erdoğan has also promised to build teahouses with books where people can enjoy “free tea and cakes” in a country that has blocked Wikipedia since April 2017.

İnce is a sitting lawmaker of the CHP and a combative politician who, many Turkish pundits argue, put Erdoğan into a defensive position for the first time in over 15 years. İnce has urged Erdoğan to prove that he has a university degree, one of the requirements of nomination to the office of president, by making a BA degree certificate public.

Despite being challenged by other rivals, Erdoğan has consistently refused to appear in a televised debate, though he targets them with accusations of being anti-Islam, destroying mosques, receiving support from Western countries and supporting “terrorism.”

Erdogan’s other rival for the presidency, Selahattin Demirtaş, the country’s most influential Kurdish politician and former co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), is in prison. This is the first time in modern Turkey’s history and the only current such case in the world that a candidate is running for president from behind bars.

İnce’s prison visit last month to Demirtaş has become an oft-repeated talking point to delegitimize CHP and HDP “terrorist sympathizers.”

“Didn’t Muharrem see the person who is the leader of terrorism,” Erdoğan has said several times over the week, although Demirtaş has not been convicted of any crime and charges against him are based on his political speeches and activities.

Authorities have kept him detained for over 18 months now as prosecutors demand up to 142 years in prison for ties with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and “terrorism.”

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