CHP’s choice for Istanbul and Ankara

CHP’s choice for Istanbul and Ankara

Following a long weekend Party Assembly meeting, Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has announced its candidates for mayorship for three big cities in the March 30 2014 local elections; namely Mustafa Sarıgül for Istanbul, Mansur Yavaş for Ankara and Aziz Kocaoğlu for İzmir.

Kocaoğlu has been the most obvious among all. Having won the CHP stronghold of İzmir five years ago with a 25-point difference over the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) candidate (55 percent CHP, 30 percent AK Parti) Kocaoğlu had suffered a lot in the meantime because of frequent corruption probes, was put in jail at some point but was able to clear his name in the end. AK Parti’s candidate is a strong name as well. Current Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım is known to be a silently working engineer who can deliver and his trump would be “support from the AKParti government for investments.” Kocaoğlu’s advantage is the “İzmir way of life,” which is modernist, secular and Western-oriented, which looks closer to the CHP line for these elections. 

Mustafa Sarıgül’s name has been around for years and years within the CHP. The successful mayor of the industrious, relatively well-off and Western oriented Şişli district of İstanbul has proved his powerbase in competition with the CHP, under other social-democratic party labels and that helped him to return to CHP, which he had worked in the youth organization of years ago. AK Parti has been claiming for some time that there are corruption allegations against him but no court case has been opened against him during the last 11 years of AK Parti amid waves of cases against many CHP-held municipalities across the country, İzmir being one of them. AK Parti is showing the incumbent mayor Kadir Topbaş once again with a rating allegedly higher than his own party. In 2009 elections CHP could get 37 percent in Istanbul as AK Parti got 44 percent. Can Sarıgül close the seven points gap? With its 14 million population the Istanbul votes have always had the primary effect over the political atmosphere of Turkey. If Sarıgül, with his capacity to reach all layers of society, not only traditional secular/modernist CHP grassroots can exceed 40 percent and close the gap further, even if he cannot win, the overall profile of CHP will be higher than today.

Ankara has the most surprising candidate among all. Mansur Yavaş was the candidate for the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in the 2009 local elections for Ankara and got 27 percent of the votes when CHP got 31.5 percent and AK Parti with Melih Gökçek won with 38.5 percent. Especially Alevi and left wing groups within the CHP have been allergic to a former MHP name as CHP candidate.
But Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Party, himself having Alevi and leftist origins, defended him saying that Yavaş had proved his mayorship capacities in the Beypazarı township of Ankara - which Yavaş turned into an inner-tourism center from almost ruins – and staying away from hardline partisanship he could bring votes to CHP from layers that CHP could never reach before. The Sarıgül-Istanbul equation applies for Yavaş-Ankara, too. Even if he cannot win, the additional votes that he can bring will raise the CHP profile as the country goes to Presidential and Parliamentary elections after locals.

What Kılıçdaroğlu is doing is not particular to Ankara. In the western city of Balıkesir, for example the announced CHP candidate Sami Sözat is a former member of Parliament from the center-right DYP list.
Another example is Antakya/Hatay, by the Syrian border. When PM Erdoğan announced the AK Parti candidate as Sadullah Ergin, the current Justice Minister, CHP immediately recruited the resigned AK Parti mayor, Lütfü Savaş, who actually had been recruited by AK Parti from the center-right. 

Instead of sticking with the ideological references, Kılıçdaroğlu who apparently has seen the importance of the locals for the next two polls, is following a pragmatic, result-oriented line for the 2014 local elections, and this is something really new for the CHP.