Former Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş made an honorable exit by resigning from his post. So did the mayors of Niğde and Düzce. The fourth mayor to leave is expected to be the mayor of Balıkesir. The resignations were demanded by the executive of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Now there are growing signs that the mayors of Bursa and the capital Ankara are also on the way out.
The party executive's decision to seek the resignations of these mayors came after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became the chairman of the AK Party. Erdoğan, addressing the party convention, said there was "metal fatigue" in the party and thus party provincial officials and mayors should step down from their mayoral seats and allow fresh blood to replace them.
The political strength and popularity of the AK Party has been growing among Turkish voters since 2002 as the party managed to display excellent municipal services in its own constituencies. In 2004, the AK Party swept all the key mayoral offices and Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek was elected at that time and has been re-elected in successive local elections ever since.
The AK Party mayors were so successful in boosting the popularity of the party due to its municipal services that even its opponents imitated the AK Party mayors. The mayor of Yenimahalle in Ankara won two successive terms by copying and carrying out services like the AK Party municipalities.
Yet, in recent years municipal services in some key provinces have started to slacken. For example in Balıkesir the people were strongly against the mayor and voiced this openly. The same was valid for Bursa, Düzce, Niğde as well as Ankara and Istanbul.
Experts believe that the fact that voters in two major cities voted against constitutional changes in the April 16 referendum shows growing voter dissatisfaction that is bad news for the AK Party. Ankara and Istanbul are vital for the success of the party not only in the local elections scheduled for March 2019 but also for the parliamentary polls and the presidential elections scheduled for November 2019. So President Erdoğan has decided to undergo spring cleaning among the AK Party ranks and prepare the party for the municipal polls.
Yet, the president seems to have met some resistance in Ankara with Mayor Gökçek dragging his feet. Some people have said Gökçek wants to go out with a bang. President Erdoğan wants this to be done in a quiet manner with no fuss, saying these mayoral resignations have nothing to do with the personalities of the mayors but rather with the perception that the people will never vote for the AK Party if these people remain in office.
The dismissal of the mayors has also created a debate that those who come to office through elections should leave office through the polls. However, President Erdoğan has said none of the mayors became candidates through primary elections but were named by the party as candidates and thus the party can now remove them from office if it benefits the political movement.
Once a mayor resigns, the city assembly convenes and elects a member as the new mayor. When the AK Party completes its cleaning process and rejuvenates its local political structures it will then do some fine tuning with its policies to court the voters.