Turkey’s parliamentary speaker likely to run for Istanbul

Turkey’s parliamentary speaker likely to run for Istanbul

With four-and-a-half months to go until local polls, the political parties have accelerated their efforts for the best possible results. Their works have two objectives: Finding the best candidates and looking into opportunities for the appointment of joint candidates in key constituencies, like Istanbul, Ankara and other big cities. 

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which controls 51 out of 81 provinces, is undertaking a meticulous study to nominate the strongest candidates and draw different strategies for each province. AKP chair, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been personally involved in these works so as not to leave the local polls to chance.

The party’s overall support is still around 40 percent, according to some research companies, and this obliges the AKP to work intensively to avoid defeat.

As the main political battlefield in the upcoming local polls, Istanbul is Erdoğan’s main preoccupation. According to the results of a survey carried out by the AKP, two senior figures rise to prominence: Parliamentary Speaker Binali Yıldırım and AKP Deputy Chair Numan Kurtulmuş. However, there is a visible difference between the two men to Yıldırım’s advantage.

Yıldırım was elected the parliament speaker right after the June 24 elections to compensate for the abolishment of the office of the prime minister. Although the position of parliamentary speaker is very prestigious, it should also be recalled that its weight and visibility in Turkish politics has seriously diminished.

Yıldırım, who had long served as the transportation minister and who has deep expertise on Istanbul’s problems, stands as an ideal contender in the eyes of Erdoğan. The issue is whether he will accept quitting his current position. Although Kurtulmuş keeps silent for the time being, he seems much more enthusiastic for the Istanbul municipality.

Surveys also indicate both Yıldırım and Kurtulmuş can attract conservative Kurdish voters in Istanbul.

As for Ankara, there are also two leading figures: AKP vice chair responsible for local administrations, Mehmet Özhaseki, and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu. Özhaseki is a few steps ahead of Soylu for various reasons, with his successful career as former Kayseri mayor being the most important one.

However, his reputation has reflected much among the Ankara electorate. Soylu is received better in the capital city. The interior minister’s removal from cabinet would also have different interpretations, especially regarding government policies in the aftermath of March 31, 2019 elections.

The AKP’s main political ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which had announced last month that it would not ally with the ruling party in local elections after a tense quarrel, has seemingly reduced its tone against the AKP in the last few weeks. It gives the impression that it has abandoned its insistence on granting amnesty to certain criminals and on adjusting early retirement.

What remains to be seen is whether the two allies would change their minds and agree to appoint joint candidates, especially for big cities for which the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the İYİ (Good) Party are also mulling over. Otherwise, it will even be harder for the MHP to protect its current eight provinces.

The main opposition leader keeps vowing that the CHP will win both Istanbul and Ankara amid multiple candidates for both provinces. The CHP’s defeated presidential candidate, Muharrem İnce, and senior CHP officials Gürsel Tekin and Akif Hamzaçebi, are among them. However, nowadays, CHP mayor of Istanbul’s Beylikdüzü district Ekrem İmamoğlu, comes to the forefront as Kılıçdaroğlu openly appreciates his performance.

Things are a little complicated in Ankara. Both the CHP and the İYİ Party wish to have Mansur Yavaş as their candidate for the capital city. Yavaş, who had run for Ankara on the CHP ticket in 2014, lost the race against the AKP candidate only with a small margin amid allegations of fraud.

He expressed his will to run for Ankara as an independent candidate but supported by both parties. CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and İYİ Party leader Meral Akşener were scheduled to meet late Oct. 13 to discuss a potential partnership in the local polls.

No doubt, a deal in Ankara between the two parties would also have reflections in other constituencies, particularly in Istanbul. Surveys carried out by research companies show the CHP protects around 25 percent of votes, while there is a constant decrease on the İYİ Party front. The latter would definitely need to cooperate with the CHP as the March 2019 polls will be its first local election.

The same surveys also paint a rather negative picture of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). However, the party is still very strong in southeastern Turkey and will likely protect its municipalities amid governmental threats that trustees would be appointed instead of elected mayors if they have links with terror organizations.

Likely to be the last stop of a chain of elections since 2014, the upcoming local poll promises to be a heated one with tense political campaigns slated to begin after the New Year.

Turkey, Politics, 2019 elections