'Projects not rhetoric will race in İzmir local elections'
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The election promises of the political parties will be more efficient than political views in the upcoming race fort he mayor seat in İzmir, according to Deniz Sipahi, the Hürriyet bureau chief in the Aegean province.
“The social democrats are in power in İzmir since 1999. But we cannot say all of İzmir’s constituent basis is social democrat,” he has told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Why has it taken so long for CHP to determine its candidate in a city seen as its stronghold?
Actually İzmir is not CHP’s stronghold. In the past mayors from right wing parties were also elected. In 1999 Ahmet Piriştina, whom the city knew well, won the elections twice. Following his sudden death during his second term Aziz Kocaoğlu (current mayor) was elected in 2004. So the social democrats are in power in İzmir since 1999. But we cannot say all of İzmir’s constituent basis is social democrat.
Actually this is a city with big business holders and Turkey’s first right wing party Democrat Party originates from the Aegean region. İzmir was in the past the stronghold of right wing parties.
Again I would not describe it as the stronghold of the right in the past. I prefer to identify İzmir with one word: democrat. It’s a democratic city. It is open to ideas; a city that runs after ideas. It uses its votes with an eye to the future. That’s why İzmir should not be considered as the stronghold of CHP or the stronghold of right wing ideology.
The result of elections is not a foregone conclusion. Locals in İzmir will look to projects, to democracy to the vision for future.
Is that why it has taken so long for CHP to choose its candidate?
In 2014 both the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the CHP announced their candidates in February. This time AK Party announced it on Nov 27. One of the reasons for the delay in the CHP is the delay in the talks with İYİ Party alliance. It was decided the last minute which provinces will be left to İyi Party.
Second; there is a perception within the CHP to see İzmir as a guaranteed outcome. Therefore when Aziz Kocaoğlu announced in October that he will not be a candidate, too many people put their candidacy.
That’s because of the perception that whoever will be the candidate CHP will win the municipality anyway.
Indeed there is such a perception. When there were too many candidates the CHP wanted to evaluate the candidates; to see the polls. The delay however lasted a bit too long. But I am of the view that Kılıçdaroğlu ever since from the beginning had in his mind Ekrem İmamoğlu for İstanbul, Mansur Yavaş for Ankara and Tunç Soyer for İzmir.
How is the profile of Tunç Soyer?
He is a well-known name in İzmir. When İzmir raced against Milano in 2015 for EXPO Tunç Soyer headed the team in this whole process. He was elected 10 years ago as the mayor of Seferihisar, which used to be a nice cozy small village. He started from promoting Seferihisar first to locals in İzmir and then to all of Turkey. While those coming to İzmir used to know only Alsancak, Kordon, Çeşme; now they also want to go and see Seferihisar.
In addition by the cooperatives he set up he succeeded to get women outside their household. Their products at home or in the field got better marketed and he initiated an economic activity. Seferihisar applied to Cittaslow network and became Turkey’s first slow city. So he created a story for Seferihisar and that got popular. There are at least 10 other cities that went on the footsteps of Seferihisar and became a slow city. I think this story played an important role in his march towards İzmir municipality.
How is the AKP’s candidate faring?
He is not from İzmir but another Aegean city, Denizli. But there is a tradition in the Aegean. All Aegeans know İzmir very well. They have relatives living here; a business connection; at least one memory about the city. Nihat Zeybekci used to be the mayor of Denizli; as such but also during his tenure as economy minister he frequently visited the city so he is one of the politicians who have an idea about the city’s economic and social developments.
Want do you think the profiles of these two candidates, tell us about İzmir.
I think there was a similar picture in previous electoral races. (Former Prime Minister and currently AKP’s candidate for İstanbul) Binali Yıldırım was running against Aziz Kocaoğlu. Politics in İzmir resembles our “imbat” (İzmir’s see breeze).
No matter how harsh politics in Turkey might be, they are much warmer. It is based on dialogue; on being careful not to offend the other side. There is a political climate where projects are being debated. I see the same thing with Soyer and Zeybekci.
They both talk about projects and in fact they both say the same thing. Both are talking about the need for İzmir writing a new story.
If İzmir is a city that is fund of democracy and freedoms and as it has voted for the CHP since 1999 does that mean that they equate democracy and freedoms with the CHP?
That is being interpreted like that and when I talk to AKP members they say; “this means locals in İzmir did not properly understood us. Zeybekci used the same rhetoric and said “this means we have not made ourselves understood.” The AKP needs to question how and why it could not explain itself; but the CHP should not see the electorate in İzmir as a cake in the pocket.
We live in a polarized country and İzmir is actually a symbol of that polarization as it votes overwhelmingly CHP. Why do you think elections are not a foregone conclusion?
After all it is the will of the voters and we just can’t take it for granted. Indeed Soyer is ahead of Zeybekci. But Soyer was successful in a smaller place; can he properly explain himself and his projects. And also İzmir is not just Alsancak and Kordon. It has 30 provinces and some of them are in the rural areas; like Ödemiş, Bergama, Dikili. They are far from the center and the race in the periphery is not like it is in the center. Kocaoğlu was popular in those places; will Soyer be successful to convince the voters which were convinced by Kocaoğlu?
CHP’s choice was criticized as Soyer’s father was a prosecutor during the military coup in 1980 and has ruled for the death sentences for some politicians in the nationalist camp. How do you think this will affect the votes on the right wing?
I believe this debate will fade away in a few days as AKP members think it works against them. Let’s not forget that Soyer’s father was one of the first prosecutors to open a legal case against Fetullah Terror Organization (FETÖ).
How do you expect the alliances to work in İzmir?
In the last elections Kocaoğlu’s votes were much higher that CHP’s votes. Some Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) voters voted for Kocaoğlu. I am curious if MHP’s constituency in İzmir will stand behind AKP’s candidate or not. Or to the contrary if voters of İYİ Party, which got 10 percent in the last elections, will support Soyer or not. The criticisms about Soyer’s father might have its toll. The (pro-Kurdish) People’s Democracy Party (HDP) has not come out with a candidate in İzmir. Some will go to AKP some will go to CHP.
The CHP has been in the hands of the opposition. How the city will fare if it still remains under the opposition especially in terms of the presidential system in Turkey?
İZBAN is a joint project of central government and local government. It carries locals of İzmir to the periphery. I find it to be very successful.
WHO IS DENİZ SİPAHİ?
Deniz Sipahi graduated from the cinema, television and performing arts department of the Dokuz Eylül University in İzmir. He completed his post-graduate study at the same department.
He started his career in journalism at the local Yeni Asır newspaper in 1988. He joined the weekly economic magazine Gözlem in 1992. After serving as the editor-in-chief at the regional newspaper Gazete Ege, Sipahi worked at Hürriyet as a chief editor. Sipahi assumed the managing editor position at Yeni Asır newspaper and he later served as the regional representative for Milliyet, Posta, Radikal, Fanatik and Vatan newspapers for the Aegean region.
He has been serving as the regional representative for Hürriyet Newspaper for the Aegean region since 2009. He has thought at the Department of Journalism at Dokuz Eylül University and Ege University. He regularly writes for Hürriyet.