Political road map and new way of running municipalities
A foreign colleague recently asked me: “What problems can be solved by changing a few mayors?” He was referring to the recent forced resignation of some Turkish mayors affiliated with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
I told him about Milli Görüş (National View), and how a movement that could not pass the electoral threshold for years rose from a local level to a national level under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. I explained how social democrats won the local administration in 1989 but lost the 1994 local and 1995 general elections. In short, I said: “Do not underestimate the importance of the ‘municipality.’ These resignations mean more than just changing a couple of mayors.”
Whom does the new law serve?
Nowadays, Ankara is discussing the establishment of new “whole-cities,” meaning cities whose administrative borders coincide with the municipality borders. The number of “whole-cities” could pass 50. The AKP has in the past secured victory in some provinces by winning votes in small and remote districts but failing to receive votes from city centers, such as in Ordu, thus winning metropolitan municipalities. It now wants to win the provinces of Bilecik and Giresun with the same method.
The proposed rule changes would benefit the AKP, but they also create three notable disadvantages, for both citizens and municipalities.
To start, in metropolitan municipality councils, “justice in representation” would be disrupted. For example, even if the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) had not lost the Ankara Metropolitan Municipality by a hair’s breadth, with 23 members it would have been a minority in the 146-seat municipality council. This is because the relevant council, the Çankaya district, has a population of one million and 10 members, while the Evren district, with a population of only 2,750, has two members. This means one Çankaya council member represents 100,000 citizens from Çankaya, but one council member from Evren represents 1,375 citizens from Evren.
The villages of “whole-cities” have turned into the districts’ neighborhoods. We now come across villages that face demolition because their poultry houses are being built in an unlicensed way in their houses’ gardens, and are therefore resisting the changes. Another problem is the distance of service. For example, the distance between the easternmost and westernmost villages that the Antalya Metropolitan Municipality needs to service is five hours by drive.
In “whole-cities,” there is a concentration of power/authority in the issues of construction plans, avenues, roads, pavements, and parks. And this ties the hands of the districts. When services stop, citizens complain to the district municipalities, which mostly respond by saying: “The metropolitan municipality is in charge of that place.”
On Nov. 17 I visited some facilities the Çankaya municipality has undertaken in the last three and a half years, together with Çankaya Mayor Alper Taşdelen and some colleagues. I realized Taşdelen felt no need to talk about basic services such as asphalt, pavement, and garbage. It would have been odd to talk about such services anyway.
Instead of that, he showed us round university student dorms, pre-school nurseries, Çankaya Houses, culture and arts centers, clinics, sports centers, and parks. It is difficult to speak about them individually. But it is worth mentioning the Masal House (“Masal Evi” in Turkish) Kindergarten in the Yıldız neighborhood, which meets an important demand with a 200 children-capacity and high level equipment. Taşdelen pointed out that 1,500 were availing of kindergartens of the Çankaya Municipality. Again in Yıldız, the total area of the three parks named Lozan, İsmet İnönü, and Zafer, amounted to nearly 200 decares, which was a like an oasis in the capital rapidly turning into concrete.
All of the facilities we visited were the capital’s most precious areas. If they had wished, they could have turned those areas into income. I had seen a similar case in Istanbul’s Kadıköy, the western province of Eskişehir’s Tepebaşı, and southern province of Antalya’s Muratpaşa districts. The Kadıköy municipality had also preferred to build kindergartens, culture centers, a caricature house, an academy, and an Alzheimer’s center in the most precious areas.
CHP mayors are aware of the burden on them, and CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is aware of the importance of local administrations and the new generation of municipality-running. This is why he is supporting both the municipalities and at the same time monitoring them in order for them not to make a mistake.
While the AKP is trying to hold onto to its position with the initiation of “whole-cities,” can the CHP find the break it seeks in the local level and rise above 25 percent of the votes?