Istanbul is probably the biggest prize in Turkish local elections, but the capital is also a prized possession and this time, the race for Ankara is different.
On 31st March, the Turkish political scene will heat up and deliver results for another local election. Unlike the previous local elections, this time the race is between many new candidates in major cities across Turkey.
The contest for the metropolitan municipality of Istanbul and Ankara will be closely watched not just because they're the biggest cities in Turkey but for their impact on the economic and social dynamics of the country.
Since the beginning of his political career, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has always focused heavily on local election campaigns. He was elected as the mayor of Istanbul in 1994 and considered it as the cornerstone of his political career.
He takes an active role in promoting candidates of the People’s Alliance (a coalition of the AK Party and the MHP) through rallies, advertisements and other forms of campaigning.
The last prime minister and the former leader of the Turkish Grand Assembly Binali Yildirim is the mayoral candidate for the alliance in Istanbul. He is also the longest-serving minister for transportation and telecommunication, in which he has an established track record in terms of delivering Turkey’s largest investment projects.
When his candidacy was announced, many analysts agreed on how much importance the People’s Alliance is placing to on the metropolitan municipality of Istanbul.
In his election manifesto, Binali Yildirim lists several major projects he believes will resolve the most urgent needs of Istanbul’s inhabitants. Yildirim promises that if he gets elected, he will focus on maximising the city’s infrastructure potential and increase the brand value of Istanbul by undertaking cultural, social and environmental projects.
Opposing him is the Nation Alliance's (a coalition of the CHP and the IYI party) Ekrem Imamoglu. He is the current mayor of Istanbul’s Beylikduzu district and affiliated with the Republican People’s Party or CHP. In contrast to Yildirim, Imamoglu is a new figure in the Turkish political arena.
Before his current post, he was the chairman of his family business, acted as the district head of Beylikduzu, and a board member for Trabzonspor Football Club. His election campaign focuses on issues such as increasing social welfare, cheaper transportation and environmental friendly planning and investments.
The race between these two candidates is unlikely to be as tight as the contest for Ankara's mayorship. As with the last two local elections, the competition in the capital is fierce and closely monitored by the leaders of both alliances. What makes local elections in Ankara more interesting is that the long-serving mayor of the city, Melih Gokcek, will not be taking part in the contest for the first time since 1994.
Although his long-term tenure in Ankara has registered as a success in the eyes of many people, it also been seen as a period of controversial leadership. Candidates of the both alliances, thereby, are not only in competition with each other but also have the challenge of overcoming the legacy of Melih Gokcek’s era.
Mehmet Ozhaseki is the candidate standing for the People’s Alliance in Ankara. He is known for his successful mayorship after five straight local election victories in the newly industrialised city of Kayseri.
His reputation in terms of good governance and political mobilisation allowed him to exert significant influence within the party which eventually granted him a seat in the Turkish Grand Assembly and a post in the last cabinet as the Minister of Environment and Urban Planning.
He has a good chance of winning the upcoming elections for having a well-regarded administrative background at the local level, hence strong support from the governing power of the country, the People’s Alliance.
However, he has a strong disadvantage too for having no political roots associated with Ankara. The local electorate might not acknowledge him as much as they would do for a candidate with a background related to Ankara’s local administration. In his manifesto, he has pledged that he has the potential to transform the capital city.
Ozhaseki promises that Ankara will be an exemplary city in Turkey as well as in Europe in terms of activities related to children, wide open green spaces and investment projects related to culture and transportation.
In contrast to Ozhaseki's platform, his opponent Mansur Yavas from the Nation's Alliance sees that the urgent needs of the city are science parks, projects related to the gentrification of the old town and improved infrastructure and facilities for tourism.
Unlike Ozhaseki, Yavas is a known figure among locals in Ankara. Especially, in the local district of Beypazari, where he was born and raised, and successfully became its mayor twice between 1999 and 2009.
Previously, Yavas ran two times to win the top seat in Ankara’s metropolitan municipality. In his first attempt in 2009, he ran for the right wing, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and finished third. In his second attempt, he switched sides and became the candidate of the left-leaning social democrats, Republican People’s Party (CHP).
Although he finished second and increased the voting share of the CHP significantly, his switch from one side of the political spectrum to another was a controversial move. He is now seen as a candidate with a hybrid nature who can attract support from a wider electoral spectrum.
Yavas’s political roots, which stem from the MHP which is now in the alliance with JDP, might mean his constituents won't give him as support as the leaders of Nation's Alliance hoped they would.
Previous races in Ankara were not only between the dominant political parties but were fought against the political brand that Melih Gokcek built for himself over two decades. Now he has gone, and the battle for Turkey’s capital will not be fought just on the profiles and platforms that each candidate has articulated but within the lines of the political and economic identities of competing alliances.
Promises that each candidate makes in the approaching local election for Turkey’s two major cities must be scrutinised for their likeliness to be realised. Whether it be in Istanbul or Ankara, elections manifestos are packed with high promises but turning them into reality is the real challenge.
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