An era is coming to an end in Ankara. There will be a new mayor of Ankara at the end of upcoming local elections.
Mehmet Özhaseki and Mansur Yavaş are both working hard to become the new mayor. No matter who wins, it will be a radical change for Ankara.
The ex-mayor of Ankara, Melih Gökçek was elected in 1994; he governed Ankara up until 2017. In 2017 he was, in a way, removed from his position and replaced by Sincan -a district of Ankara- mayor Mustafa Tuna. Why he was removed was never made public. This is typical AKP politics though, nothing is transparent; usually Erdoğan decides the political moves and he does not really answer why he does what he does. But basically, AKP has been governing Ankara for almost 25 years: first with Gökçek than with Tuna. Now AKP’s Ankara mayoral candidate is Mehmet Özhaseki. He is originally from Kayseri. On the one hand he is trying to separate himself from Gökçek’s -so called, legacy. Gökçek’s legacy is a tricky one in any case. Among Ankara’s taxi drivers he is believed to be the 4th richest person in the world. That may not be realistic, but he is believed to own at least one apartment in every newly built gated community in Ankara. These are all urban legends of course; but it gives one an idea about Gökçek’s image.
Although Gökçek is not a candidate this time, people still relate AKP to Gökçek. Mr Özhaseki’s rival from the CHP-İYİ party coalition is a tough nut to crack. Mansur Yavaş raced against Melih Gökçek in 2014, but lost by a very small margin. This time he believes he is going to win the election and become the next mayor of Ankara.
Mansur Yavaş is not a member of CHP, he has a nationalist background. His close team consists of ex-gray wolves. Still, they are working closely with the left leaning CHP team members on the field. CHP members tell me that in 2014, there was a certain distance between CHP and Yavaş, both Yavaş and CHP were timid towards each other, but they say now they have blended well together. Although Mansur Yavaş is not a CHP member himself, he uses phrases like “our party” and/or “our chair” for CHP and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, respectively.
Yavaş says he is going to reveal the massive corruption in Ankara municipality when he is elected. I ask him why he does not do it now. He answers, the electorate does not really care about corruption, rather they want to hear the projects. Also, Yavaş thinks they will be able to see the numbers more closely once they are in the office.
Yavaş claims, the bidding process within the municipality was highly corrupt and irrelevant people have been receiving unbelievable amount of commissions. He believes once this system is taken down, it will be very easy to find the budget to renew Ankara’s infrastructure and solve its growing traffic problem.
Yavaş’s aides say, they do not really trust the polls and they do not trust any of the polling agencies, but they are certain they will be elected this time. One lady working in the campaign tells me, there are rumors even in the municipality itself, that workers are preparing themselves for Yavaş’s term. She also claims that lower ranking team members of the AKP campaign tell them, they do not believe their candidate will be elected this time.
It Is early to be certain about the result of the election, though. Once Mr Erdoğan starts rallying, going city to city, he usually influences the results. Whenever Mr Erdoğan turns the elections into a battle of him against the rest, he wins. So most likely Mr Erdoğan will not let these local elections remain as local elections; he will turn them into a bid for himself again. He will try to draw national and even international issues into the election process. If the opposition can halt Erdoğan’s strategy this time and keep the elections’ focus on local issues as much as they can, they might have a chance to win. At least in Ankara.