A brief note on local Istanbul votes, from the ‘90s to today

Published 01.12.2018 00:38
Updated 01.12.2018 08:00

In 1994, I began to work in Istanbul as a graduate student. Before my graduation, I had the opportunity to observe the general elections of 1987 and the local elections of 1989 in Bursa. As a university student, I had been, in that period, a vigorous advocate of the Welfare Party (RP). As the leader of the RP's youth branches in Bursa, I was directly participating in our electoral campaigns. During the general elections of 1991, we developed an original technique of communications in Bursa to convey our cause "the Just Order" (Adil Düzen) to all notables and tradespeople in the province. As an alternative economic model to the status quo, "the Just Order" had long been the main policy of the opposition RP.

When I began to live in Istanbul, Turkey's greatest city, in 1994, it had long been poorly administered. In that period, significant academicians were claiming that Istanbul had lost its status as a manageable city and already slid into urban chaos. Turkish politics had itself been in turmoil. The Motherland Party (ANAP) had weakened, while the rising alternative Social Democratic Party (SHP) disappointed the Turkish electorate with its poor performance in local governance. Meanwhile, the late Necmettin Erbakan's RP had been on the rise thanks to the upright and critical stance of its political leadership in the face of the ruling political parties and to the RP's strong organizational structure.

At that time, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the RP's provincial chairman in Istanbul. Participating in all of the RP's conferences in each province of the country, Erdoğan had rapidly risen in popularity, and in a short span of time, had become, right after Erbakan, the most influential political figure in the RP. While the RP's vote rate was around 7 percent, Erdoğan became a candidate for Beyoğlu mayor in 1989 and realized an unprecedented and revolutionary leap forward by taking 22 percent of the votes.

In 1994, the RP's provincial organization in Istanbul was a highly sophisticated and well-structured organization. The Women's Branch and the National Youth Foundation (MGV) in Istanbul were as organized and strong as the RP itself. In this period, the RP was organized in 800 neighborhoods in Istanbul, while the MGV had already established its organization in all high schools and universities, in addition to almost 100 neighborhoods.

When the electoral race began in 1994, RP candidate Erdoğan's main competitors were İlhan Kesici from ANAP, Zülfü Livaneli from the SHP and Bedrettin Dalan from the True Path Party (DYP). At the end of a fierce electoral competition, Erdoğan won the elections by taking 27 percent of Istanbul's constituency.

At that time, there were no professional and neutral research institutes. "White Turks" had been predominant in existing research institutes and media organs. Consequently, newly elected Istanbul Mayor Erdoğan immediately faced numerous attacks from tutelary politics. Almost all of the Turkish media was against Erdoğan's administration, claiming that Istanbul was no longer a manageable city.

Against all odds and despite all counter-efforts, Erdoğan rapidly became successful in managing the chaotic city. Thus, on the pretext of his reading a poem, Erdoğan was removed from office. The poem was written by Ziya Gökalp, who is himself considered "the philosophical founder of the Republic."

In fact, the RP's electoral success was not restricted to Istanbul. From Ankara to Diyarbakır and from Konya to Kayseri, the RP won a significant portion of Turkey's mayor offices. From that day to today, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) continues to win those mayor offices with the sole exception of Diyarbakır.

When the RP was closed by the military tutelage establishment, the Virtue Party (FP) was founded. Yet, when the FP was soon closed as well, the AK Party emerged as the strongest political party to rule Turkey's halting democracy. Today, most metropolitan municipalities, most notably mayor offices in Istanbul and Ankara, have been governed by the AK Party.

The opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) claims that if the AK Party loses local elections in Istanbul and Ankara, then the newly introduced presidential system could be brought into question and the former parliamentary system could be re-introduced. Yet, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has already renewed its support for the People's Alliance by announcing that they will not put up candidates for mayor offices in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir and instead support the AK Party candidate.

It seems that the AK Party's candidate for the municipality of Istanbul will be Binali Yıldırım, while the CHP has not yet announced its candidate. The sum of votes of the AK Party and the MHP appears to be around 50 percent in Istanbul, while the CHP's votes revolve around 35 percent. To win the local elections in Istanbul, the CHP candidate must take all the votes from the Kurdish nationalist Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and the Turkish nationalist Good Party (İP). Istanbul's constituency has predominantly been a conservative constituency, which has until today preferred the AK Party's administration. Having the upper hand for the mayor's office in Istanbul, the AK Party plans to take the CHP's mayor offices in Kartal and Büyükçekmece.

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