“You find out life’s this game of inches. So is football. Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small — I mean one-half a step too late, or too early, and you don’t quite make it. One-half second too slow, too fast, you don’t quite catch it.”

This quote comes from a great scene in the film called “Any Given Sunday” featuring Al Pacino, with a spectacular performance as an American football coach, in a locker room giving a motivational speech to his team. He defines life as games of inches and says “So is football” and we can undoubtedly put forward “So are the elections”. You find out that politics is a journey of small steps and in both cases in politics and in life, the margin for error is always small. As Turkey enters the home stretch of local elections on March 31; it’s all about planning, timing, and focusing on the process for mayoral candidates, whoever goes inch by inch, issue by issue will be successful on D – Day.

Although President Erdoğan won last election in the summer of 2018 and has tested his power, and obviously no opposition figure can come close to his popularity; there is a sap of strength at local level, according to the indicators. The polls and polling firms are not in vogue nowadays, yet there is fierce competition according to general opinion in metropolitans like Istanbul, Ankara, Mersin, Adana and Antalya. Let’s take the pulse of Turkey’s two major municipalities – Istanbul, Ankara – as we count the last ten days to the elections.

Istanbul: A sui generis city

In Istanbul’s tight race, there are two major mayoral candidates: Binali Yıldırım for People’s Alliance (AKP and MHP) and Ekrem Imamoğlu for Nation’s Alliance (CHP and IYI Party).

The governing AKP (Justice and Development Party) candidate is Binali Yıldırım, a former Turkish Prime Minister and Grand National Assembly Speaker. Due to his nearly uninterrupted 11-year term in office, Binali Yıldırım was referred to as the ‘unchanging transport minister’ of the AKP. Among his projects in Istanbul are Marmaray (Bosporus Immersed Tube Tunnel), 3rd Airport and 3rd Bosporus Bridge. As part of the People’s Alliance, the AKP candidate will have the unconditional support of the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party).

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) announced its candidate as the Beylikdüzü district’s serving mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu. İmamoğlu is to have support from the İYİ Party (Good Party). On the other hand, HDP announced its decision not to nominate candidates in Istanbul, Ankara and lzmir, but rather to make the AKP – MHP alliance lose in west parts of Turkey.

Istanbul has always been an indicator of political trends in elections with its large population of over 15 million. It has also been governed by the same team since 1994; first by Erdoğan with the Welfare Party, than by AKP (Justice and Development Party). You might say that winning in Istanbul is also Erdoğan’s prestige because he began his political career there and any decline in the percentage of AKP votes would also imply a weakening in his political popularity.

 

AKP CHP HDP MHP IYI
2014 Local Elections (%) 47.9 40 4.83 3.97
2018 General Elections (%) 42.7 26.4 12.7 8.3 8

*Figures of Istanbul
**IYI Party (Good Party) established on October 25, 2017.

Having seen the figures, one can easily conclude that on Election Day Istanbul is going to experience a fierce finish, and we will probably get a win by nose. Certainly, politics is not a branch of mathematics; you cannot add the numbers and come up with exact results. Rising unemployment, inflation, weakening of Turkish lira will definitely have a negative impact on voters. On the other hand, although it has negligible effect according to opinion polls, on September 23, 2017 AKP Mayor Kadir Topbaş of Istanbul resigned from his position because of metal fatigue among seven other AKP provincial chairmen at the request of President Erdoğan.

People’s Alliance Binali Yıldırım seems confident due to his experience and popularity that he will win the elections; but although he is relatively unknown, with his cool stance and non – provocative attitude, Ekrem Imamoğlu of Nation’s Alliance has been performing surprisingly well.

Ankara: At the mercy of a legal dispute

Like Istanbul, in the last 25 years, respectively, Refah (Welfare) Party and AKP (Justice and Development Party) ruled Ankara municipality. However, Melih Gökçek, Ankara’s mayor, with his uninterrupted service between the years 1994 – 2017, was an extraordinary character. Throughout the years he had countless controversial decisions and statements. He had disputes not only with the opposition parties, but also with METU (Middle East Technical University) over a highway crossing the university campus, the Russian Federation Embassy over road construction, several times with the Ankara Chamber of Architects, etc. After weeks of unsuccessful negotiations with President Erdoğan to retain his office, Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek resigned on October 27, 2017.

On November 2018, AKP announced that Mehmet Özhaseki, Kayseri’s former mayor (1998-2015) and former Minister of Environment and Urban Planning (2016-2018), would be their Metropolitan Mayor in Ankara. Mr. Özhaseki has the support of the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) due to the People’s Alliance agreement.

CHP (Republican People’s Party) once again announced its candidate as Mansur Yavaş, who ran for the party in previous local elections back in 2014. With widespread allegations of electoral fraud, Mr. Yavaş had narrowly lost the previous election against Melih Gökçek. Between the years of 1999 – 2009, Mr. Yavaş served as Mayor of Beypazarı District of Ankara as a member of MHP. He has the support of IYI (Good) Party as a part of the Nation’s Alliance agreement.

  AKP CHP HDP MHP IYI
2014 Local Elections (%) 44.8 43.8 0.87 7.77
2018 General Elections (%) 40.4 26.1 6.4 13.1 12.1

*Figures of Ankara
**IYI Party (Good Party) established on October 25, 2017.

Ankara has had a considerable amount of migration from other Central Anatolian provinces over the past 25 years, causing its tendencies to approach nationalist narrative more and more. The Nation’s Alliance has therefore decided to nominate a candidate from nationalist grassroots, CHP claims. It was believed that Mansur Yavaş was well ahead of his People’s Alliance rival Mehmet Özhaseki until last week. What changed Ankara’s competition was a number of serious claims about Yavaş’s business ties to a person who sued him for fraud, forgery and blackmail. Starting with AKP spokesman Ömer Çelik, Mehmet Özhaseki and President Erdoğan slammed Yavaş over charges and demanded accurate responses to those claims. Even Bahçeli, MHP leader, asked him to step out of the candidacy. In addition, AKP officials said they are conducting a judicial case to clarify Mansur Yavaş’s shady business. If this controversial situation remains until 31 March, there are claims that, if convicted, Mansur Yavaş may not be able to serve as a mayor even if he is elected.

On the other hand, as a strategy that believes these claims reinforce their campaign, Mansur Yavaş and the Nation’s Alliance are trying to cool the situation by focusing on the elements of their campaign; i.e. their projects, Ankara’s infrastructural needs, etc., instead of responding to every AKP claim. Last week, Mr. Mansur Yavaş held a press conference documenting his side of the story.

The game still looks like a tie after evaluating the two major metropolitans and counting the last ten days to the elections. Every inch matters, and there is a very small margin of error and it comes at a price. Most likely the tiebreaker will be President Erdoğan’s performance, who has always been the dominant actor in Turkish politics, and how Mansur Yavaş handles the lawsuits against him.

Once again, you find out that politics is a journey of small steps and in both cases in politics and in life; the margin for error is always small. Life is game of inches, so are the elections.

Stay tuned!

Other highlights from past week

  • European Parliament’s Resolution Regarding 2018 Report on Turkey

“MEPs are seriously concerned about Turkey’s poor track record in upholding the human rights, the rule of law, the media freedom and the fight against corruption. Taking the above into account, MEPs recommend to suspend EU accession talks with Turkey and stress that EU-Turkey relations must be redefined in terms of an effective partnership. EU funds, however, must still be available to support Turkish civil society, human rights defenders and students. The European Parliament also notes the importance for both the EU and its Member States and Turkey of maintaining close dialogue and cooperation on foreign policy and security issues and acknowledges the important role played by Turkey in responding to the migration crisis.” the European Parliament declared in the adopted resolution on March 13, 2019.

Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded the resolution on the same day with a press release: “We do not attribute any value to this unilateral and by no means objective stance of the European Parliament when we are in a period of increasing our common efforts to put Turkey-EU relations back on track and restarting the reform process while we leave behind the trauma of the heinous coup attempt of 15 July. Hence, the Resolution is deemed meaningless on our end.”

 “European Parliament adopted its resolution on Turkey Report which proposes suspension of accession negotiations with Turkey. For us, this is a null&void, worthless and disreputable resolution” the spokesperson of AKP (Justice and Development Party) tweeted.

While Turkey’s approach to the resolution is as non – binding, meaningless and worthless as it is, the European Parliament is of utmost importance to Turkey. You might say that Turkish accession negotiations to the EU are de facto frozen; however, there are two pressing issues: visa liberation and the modernization of the Customs Union Agreement; both of which require the European Parliament’s approval.

  • Claims against Mansur Yavaş, the Ankara mayoral candidate of Nation’s Alliance

Turkish prosecutors have issued an indictment on charges of misconduct against Ankara’s CHP mayoral candidate.

Speaking at a press conference in Ankara, AKP spokesman Ömer Çelik said that the forged bond was used even though it was finalized by the Supreme Court and the CHP was yet to respond. “The CHP does not seem to respond to the allegations, and attempts are being made to cover it up.” Çelik added. He stressed that the nomination of this candidate in their city is unjust for the people of Ankara. Mr. Yavaş was sued for trying to collect a $ 600,000 check, which he received as a trustee, according to the report on the Turkish daily Sabah.

On March 12 Mansur Yavaş held a press conference and refuted all allegations against him and said his rivals were trying to steam him out of the March 31 local elections. “There is a denial of execution ruling concerning a fake bond that Necmettin Kesgin gave me. And I don’t have an appeals court rule against me. I am the real victim here” Yavaş said. He, also, stated that Kesgin had been charged previously for involvement, inconsistencies and discrepancies in bonds and similar documents, as well as claims for child abuse. “Those, who understand that they are unable to win by democratic elections, are trying to harm my reputation. This is the most disgraceful election campaign ever witnessed by our political history” Yavaş stressed.

  • Terrorist attack in New Zealand

The mosque attacks in Christchurch New Zealand, which left at least 49 people dead, have had a profound effect in Turkey as well as around the world “With this attack, hostility to Islam, which the world has been watching idly and encouraging for some time, has gone beyond individual harassment to reach the level of mass killing,” Erdogan said in a former minister’s funeral ceremony. In his election rallies, he also showed video footage of the attack and added “We don’t want to see a cross and crescent conflict again,” referring to the Christian – Muslim conflict. Erdogan said on Friday that the suspected attacker had “targeted our country, our nation, and myself,” adding countries around the world, especially in the West, needing to guard against the rise of Islam phobia. President Erdogan also highlighted that the suspect had visited Turkey twice and warned that there was no room for Turks in Europe. He also added that his visits and contacts were being investigated by Turkish authorities.