Political parties have scaled up their efforts to win mayoral posts in the three most populous provinces of Turkey – Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir – in the local elections scheduled for March 2019. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which controls Turkey's commercial capital Istanbul and administrative capital Ankara since the 2004 local elections, the first municipal poll after its foundation in 2002, seeks a victory in the Republican People's Party's (CHP) stronghold in western Izmir province, Turkey's third most populous city. On the other hand, the CHP administration ponders on strategies to get mayoral posts in Istanbul and Ankara after long years of hiatus.
İhsan Aktaş, the head of GENAR polling company, which is one of Turkey's prominent pollsters, said on Tuesday that the AK Party is likely to secure victory in Istanbul and Ankara and may win the local elections in the CHP stronghold İzmir province, in case of an alliance with Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), according to recent data.
The AK Party and MHP formed the People's Alliance for the June 24 presidential and parliamentary elections. The alliance received a majority in the Parliament by 52.6 percent of the votes in parliamentary elections. As the alliance proved to be successful, the parties seek to carry the momentum to the local elections. While the details of a common strategy in the local elections has not yet been revealed, reports suggest that the parties may support each other's candidate in certain provinces. MHP Chairman Devlet Bahçeli had announced that they will not nominate a candidate in Istanbul and back the AK Party candidate.
The nearly two-decade hegemony of the AK Party started with former Istanbul mayor Kadir Topbaş's victory with 45.3 percent of votes against CHP's candidate Sefa Sirmen, who came second with 28.9 percent of the votes. Topbaş defeated current CHP chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in the 2009 elections with 44.7 percent and got his third consecutive win in 2014 with 47.9 percent against prominent Turkish politician Mustafa Sarıgül, who entered the election as the CHP's nominee.
Similar to Istanbul, the AK Party has been controlling Ankara since its candidate Melih Gökçek triumphed against the renowned social democratic politician Murat Karayalçın in 2004 with 55 percent of votes against 20.8 percent. The two competed in the 2009 local elections again, and Gökçek clinched another victory with 38.5 percent votes while Karayalçın remained at 31.3 percent. In the 2014 local elections, the CHP transferred former mayor of Ankara's Beypazarı district, Mansur Yavaş, from MHP, and nominated him against Gökçek. The experienced mayor left behind Yavaş in a fierce competition by garnering 44.8 percent of votes. The CHP candidate got 43.8 percent of votes.The CHP administration had stated that they are confident in Istanbul and Ankara in the upcoming local elections. In the referendum held in April 2017 to shift to the new executive presidential system, "No" votes, spearheaded by the CHP, barely surpassed in Istanbul and Ankara against the "Yes" votes advocated by the AK Party. The result gave hope to the CHP administration to break the center-right hegemony in the two most populous Turkish provinces since the early 90s.
In the last municipal and mayoral elections in 2014 in the CHP stronghold of Izmir, the AK Party had won 35.92 percent of the votes in Izmir, falling behind the winner CHP, who received 49.58 percent of the votes. The current Parliament Speaker and the last Prime Minister of Turkey, Binali Yıldırım was the AK Party's mayoral candidate against the CHP candidate Aziz Kocaoğlu, who has been the mayor of Izmir since 2004. The MHP candidate came third by earning nearly 8 percent of votes.
While the AK Party is seeking to gain a victory in Izmir in the upcoming elections, the CHP's long-running mayor Kocaoğlu had announced on Monday that he will not run for another term in the 2019 local elections while voicing veiled criticism against the CHP administration and Kılıçdaroğlu amid an ongoing leadership debate since the general elections in June.
In an interview with Sözcü daily published yesterday, Kocaoğlu also said that no CHP official called him after his decision to not run as a candidate. "I think we should give an opportunity to the youth," Kocaoğlu said while explaining the reason of his decision to not run again.
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