Streets decorated with colorful flags of all the political parties, posters of candidates on walls and posts, minivans driving around with loudspeakers playing campaign songs. This chaotic picture, which was described as visual pollution by many, would be on display during previous election periods in the streets of Turkey. However yesterday the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) announced that for the March 2019 municipal elections these traditional methods will be eliminated and instead be made more environmentally friendly through the utilization of social media channels.
"We are completely leaving campaign methods that cause visual and noise pollution. We have decided to follow a campaign respecting the environment and people," President and Chairman of the AK Party Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday during the party's extended provincial heads meeting at party headquarters in Ankara. Erdoğan underlined that in order to prevent visual pollution, the party will only be allowed to display flags in the regions of party organizations and election coordination centers. The AK Party election buses will not be touring except on specific times set beforehand. Erdoğan underscored that social media and other mediums will take the place of traditional campaign methods.
As a party known for its green policies, it is not hard to understand why the AK Party opts for holding a more modern and technological election campaign.
In the main squares of the cities, it is possible to see political parties setting up stands next to each other displaying party banners and distributing brochures. The party buses of different parties parked there also loudly play campaign songs that merge with the all the other songs playing.
"There has been increasing disturbance in all parts of society during the election campaigns which often turn into a demonstration of political power. Hanging banners and playing campaign songs from buses belong in the 1990s; responding to the demands of the people AK Party took the initiative as the ruling party to end this," said İsmail Çağlar, the society and media research director at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA).
Erdoğan also called on other political parties to give up old campaigning tools harming the environment and adopt new methods.
Stressing the increasing use of the internet in Turkey and across the world, Erdoğan said that it is possible to reach out to more people via social media rather than holding meetings in cities.
Currently, 4 billion people use the internet globally and 3 billion of them are social media users. In Turkey, the numbers are also high; there are 54.5 million internet users and 51 million social media users.
Erdoğan himself is an active user of social media as he has over 13 million followers on Twitter.
Çağlar underscored that it is no surprise that the AK Party decided to hold an election campaign via social media as Erdoğan has been long stressing the significance of rejuvenation and reforms. Çağlar further stated that "in the previous elections AK Party had already prioritized using social media as part of its election campaigns."
In the past presidential election, Erdoğan actively used his Twitter account for election campaigning.
According to a report by SETA about the presidential candidates' social media strategy in the June 24 elections, Erdoğan prioritized his election promises in his social media during the June 24 presidential election campaign and defined his promises as the continuance of the current performance.
Referring to the June 24 presidential campaign period, the report said "It is seen that 11.17 percent of Erdoğan's tweets were about his promises and 10.64 were about current activities," and added "[Some] 45.7 percent of the content of Erdoğan's tweets are related to meetings and events."
Since it came to power in 2002, the AK Party has been known for its green policies aiming at increasing environmental sensitivity. According to a report by the AK Party that explains the activities and performance of the government in the past decade, between 1992 and 2002, the government oversaw afforestation work in some 743,000-hectare area. This number has increased six-fold between 2003 and 2017. During the last decade of the AK Party-led government, a 4.9 million hectare area was used for forestation. The same report revealed that some 1.5 million hectares of new forests were also created in Turkey.
AK Party announces 14 more candidates for mayorship
Erdoğan also announced yesterday the names of 14 more candidates for mayorships in the local elections, including the provinces of Aksaray, Ağrı, Bilecik, Erzincan, Edirne, Iğdır, Isparta, Kars, Kırşehir, Kütahya, Siirt, Tunceli, Van and Zonguldak.
With the 60 mayoral candidates Erdoğan announced previously, including candidates for Ankara, Izmir and 12 more metropolitan municipalities, the ruling AK Party has announced 74 provincial mayoral candidates to date.
Previously, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) announced that it will not nominate candidates in İstanbul, Ankara, and İzmir and instead support the candidates of the AK Party. Former Environment and Urban Planning Minister Mehmet Özhaseki, who now serves as deputy from central Kayseri province and AK Party vice chairman in charge of local administrations, was nominated for the capital Ankara.
The AK Party's candidate for western Izmir province, which is a stronghold of the CHP, is former Economy Minister and Denizli deputy Nihat Zeybekci, who held the ministry post from December 2013 to November 2015 and from May 2016 to July 2018.
There are seven provinces including İstanbul that the AK Party has yet to announce. The remaining cities are Manisa, Aydın, Muğla, Mersin and Adana. In İstanbul, Parliament Speaker and former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım is largely expected to be the candidate of the AK Party. Except İstanbul, all other provinces are reportedly being considered for joint candidacy with the MHP as part of their People's Alliance. The MHP won the 2014 local elections in Adana, Mersin, Manisa and Osmaniye provinces.
The names announced so far point to a large-scale renewal by the AK Party on a local scale with the party sticking to its three-term limit. Out of the 74 names announced so far, only 17 are incumbent mayors, and among those names are several mayors who took over during the AK Party's rejuvenation bid in late 2017 and others who replaced outgoing mayors elected to Parliament in the June 2018 presidential and parliamentary elections.
AK Party upholds People's Alliance with MHP
In relation to the People's Alliance formed with the MHP, Erdoğan stressed that the AK Party aims to continue the alliance in harmony.
"No one should attempt to cast a shadow into our People's Alliance," Erdoğan said calling on members of the AK Party to continue efforts without taking steps that would undermine the alliance. He underscored that everyone needs to follow the decisions taken by the parties' headquarters in order to reach harmony.
The People's Alliance between the MHP and the AK Party was formed ahead of the June 24 parliamentary and presidential elections. The alliance received a majority in Parliament, while their presidential candidate, the incumbent president, also won the election by 52.6 percent of the votes. As both parties consider the results of the June 24 elections as successful, they now seek to continue their alliance in the local elections.