Ruling AKP sets sights on mayor’s seat in main opposition CHP stronghold İzmir

Ruling AKP sets sights on mayor’s seat in main opposition CHP stronghold İzmir

IZMIR - Hürriyet Daily News
Ruling AKP sets sights on mayor’s seat in main opposition CHP stronghold İzmir

Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım (L) speaks with main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu during an event in İzmir. Yıldırım is tipped to be an AKP candidate for İzmir, a CHP stronghold. DHA photo

As the local elections loom, the public debate is mostly focused on two mayor’s postitions held by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), namely Ankara and Istanbul. However, a fierce battle is expected in the Aegean province of İzmir, considered a stronghold for the main opposition.

İzmir, Turkey’s third largest province, is one of the few metropolitan municipalities where the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) holds the mayor’s post. Although the CHP is confident of another victory in the March 2014 elections, the top local AKP official believes the party has a significant chance of winning this time.

“The Ak Parti’s success in the general elections is the result of its indisputable achievements at the local level since the 2004 local elections,” Ömer Cihat Akay, the AKP’s İzmir provincial head, told the Hürriyet Daily News in a recent interview.

The ruling party has based its strategy in the race for the İzmir’s mayor post on “service,” which Akay said İzmir has not benefited from since the social democrats came into power in 1999.

“The main opposition party uses arguments such as ‘İzmir’s fall is the fall of the last castle,’ ‘the ruling party is trying to capture İzmir,’ trying to benefit from the increasing tension in society,” said Akay. “We are aware of some reaction to our party, and maybe we have failed to explain ourselves to the people of İzmir. But we are here to serve the people, and we want them to give us at least a chance by lending their votes to Ak Parti for one term, then they will see how municipal services should be run.”

The lack of proper communication with the public about municipal business is also a concern for the main opposition party in İzmir.

In the last local elections in 2009, the CHP won the mayor’s seat with 55.2 percent of the votes, while the AKP got 30.7 percent. The party also led by 19 percent, 48 to 29, in the votes for the municipal council, which are cast for the party, not the candidates.

Gap narrowed 

However, the gap between the two parties narrowed down to 7 percent in the 2011 general elections, CHP dropped to 43.8 percent and AKP increased to 36.8, and many believe the performance of İzmir Mayor Aziz Kocaoğlu played a significant role in the decrease of his party’s votes.

“İzmir has turned in to a ‘mega village’ under Kocaoğlu,” Akay said. “For example, the city’s garbage problem has not been solved in the last three terms, if they cannot solve it they will be held accountable for it in the polls,” he added. “The people of İzmir are democrats, it is nobody’s stronghold.”

On the other hand, a senior CHP member believes slamming Kocaoğlu is not fair. “Huge investments have been made on the infrastructure of the city, the impacts of these investments will be seen in the next term,” said Murat Bakan, the spokesperson for the CHP group in the Metropolitan Municipal Council. 

The municipality has also been facing pressure from the government, according to Bakan.
“Investigators from the Interior Ministry have been working on the municipal accounts for years, hoping to find irregularities,” he said. 

“Tenders for service have been arbitrarily canceled, citing complaints from losing firms. It is not easy to run a city of 4 million people while the government is trying to block you,” said Bakan, who is also running to be nominated as the CHP candidate for mayor in central Konak district.

The candidates play a significant role in the Turkish local elections and both the CHP and the AKP are yet to announce their candidates. Bakan believes that Kocaoğlu will be nominated by the CHP once again, while the hope for the AKP side is that Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım will run.

“The ‘silent revolution’ Mr. Yıldırım has performed as the Transportation Minister since 2002 has surely been noticed by the people of İzmir,” said Akay. “I’m aware that the İzmir mayor’s post is a small one for such a successful politician, but I hope he agrees to be our candidate.”

Having Yıldırım as a candidate may help the AKP votes in İzmir, but the party will still struggle, according to Özer Doğan, a political analyst based in İzmir.

“Kocaoğlu has the potential to bring votes to the CHP from districts outside the metro area, such as Ödemiş and Tire,” said Doğan. 

With a recent government-led change to municipal law, the boundaries of the metropolitan municipalities have been extended to the whole province.

“Yıldırım will surely contribute to the AKP votes, but the government’s way of handling the Gezi protests has created a significant reaction in İzmir,” Doğan added. “The AKP will have a mountain to climb in the local elections.”