Ankara, Balıkesir and Istanbul may come as a surprise in the local elections

Ankara, Balıkesir and Istanbul may come as a surprise in the local elections

It was a stormy day in December 2017. A half-century-old poplar tree fell down due to heavy wind at Kuğulu Park (Swan Park).

Luckily, no one was hurt, but other trees could have fallen down at any moment. The Çankaya Municipality immediately commenced a broad pruning work across the park in line with recommendations by leading agricultural engineers. When the job was done, the park was “destitute,” so to speak. A massive public debate then stirred with many headlines being issued saying, “the mayor from the main opposition party has massacred the trees.” Even if Çankaya Municipality Mayor Alper Taşdelen from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) said many times they had “pruned the trees in order to save them,” he was unable to get his point across.

I passed through the park the other day when I was on my way to meet CHP Istanbul deputy Gürsel Tekin. In the past year, the trunks of the old poplar trees seem to have flourished. The park seems to have returned to the way it used to be.

After we met up and sat down, the conversation immediately arrived at the debate within the CHP. Tekin said, “Look, I am going to tell you something.”

“I was the Kadıköy deputy mayor. We had a very old tree. It was 200 years old according to some. However, the tree was about to fall down. An agriculture engineer claimed he could save the tree. He was assertive and made us believe him. He pruned the tree so much, only two or three meters of the trunk was left. Then the neighborhood kicked up a fuss. We asked the engineer what he had done. ‘Root pruning,’ he replied. ‘They are making a commotion, how will we explain this?’ we said. ‘It will take six months,’ he answered. Six months later, the tree blossomed with branches and green leaves. I asked the protesters to come together and ‘apologize to the engineer.’”

I told Tekin the details I have described above and asked: “Where will this memory lead?”

Tekin associated it with the CHP. “The party needs pruning. Just like the body of that tree, the party needs to flourish again from its main principles,” he said.

I quickly changed the subject and asked him whether he would run for mayor in Istanbul in the upcoming elections.

Without hesitation, “I am a candidate,” he said. Then he talked about his strategy to win over Istanbul.

He talked about Istanbul’s outer districts such as Sultangazi, Sultanbeyli, Bağcılar and Esenyurt instead of the CHP’s strongholds, like Kadıköy, Bakırköy, Beşiktaş or Şişli. Tekin seems to be well-read on Istanbul’s demographic spectrum and voting behavior.

I had a look at Istanbul’s local poll results from the past. The Prosperity Party (RP) had won by only 25 percent of the votes in 1994 thanks to the massive fragmentation both in the leftist and right parties.

In the last three local elections, some sort of de facto base alliances have been formed around a key difference between the CHP and the Justice and Development Party (AKP). In the 2014 local polls, the AKP achieved to win almost 48 percent of the votes and the CHP reached 40 percent.

On the other hand, other third parties achieved to win just 4 or 5 percent of the votes in Istanbul, while their votes were over 10 percent in the general elections. In short, without the support of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in the upcoming local elections, the chance of the AKP winning Istanbul is low. This is also the case for the CHP without the support of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). As far as I have observed from our conversation, Tekin has seen this as an advantage for himself compared to other CHP candidates.

Lately, restaurants close to the general headquarters of political parties are full of dozens of candidates. During a conversation at these restaurants, one AKP official reminded me of the comments by Mehmet Özhaseki, the AKP vice chair responsible for local administrations, over how they were pleased with the performances of the new mayors who were elected after their predecessors resigned.

“Our President [Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] has been pleased with the performances of the mayors of Istanbul, Ankara and [the Aegean province of] Balıkesir. I would not be surprised if three of them were nominated again,” the AKP official told me.

I do not know about Istanbul, but I have heard similar comments regarding Balıkesir and Ankara and I would not be surprised if the current mayors are nominated for the 2019 local elections.

Politics, Turkey,