President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan presented his ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) mayoral candidates for March 31 elections in the western province of Izmir.
The party previously announced on Nov. 27 that former Economy Minister and Denizli deputy Nihat Zeybekci is the candidate for the metropolitan municipality of Izmir, which is a stronghold of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).
Erdoğan announced AK Party's 25 district mayoral candidates, saying that the party will support the Nationalist Movement Party's (MHP) candidates in five district municipalities, namely Aliağa, Çeşme, Dikili, Foça and Narlıdere as part of the People's Alliance. The AK Party nominated five female candidates while the MHP nominated one.
In his speech, Erdoğan criticized the CHP-led municipality and asked the voters in Izmir to make a pragmatic choice rather than ideological.
Speaking about Turkey's economy, the president said that the country's economy grew 4.5 percent in first 3 quarters of 2018, despite challenges.
He added that Turkey hit top figures in the country's history with an export worth $168.1 billion.
In 2014 local elections, the AK Party won six district municipalities, namely Kemalpaşa, Kınık, Menderes, Ödemiş, Selçuk and Torbalı located in rural areas of the province. AK Party nominated incumbent mayors in four districts while opting for new names in Selçuk and Ödemiş districts.
The MHP won Aliağa and Kiraz districts in 2014 elections. Aliağa's incumbent Mayor Serkan Acar was re-nominated and will be backed by the AK Party. Kiraz district Mayor Saliha Özçınar, who switched to the AK Party after the elections, was nominated by the AK Party for March 31. All remaining provinces were won by the CHP.
Zeybekci, a previous businessman in the textile sector who served as the mayor of the Aegean province of Denizli between 2004 and 2011, held the ministry post from December 2013 to November 2015 and from May 2016 to July 2018.
A center-left hegemony has reigned in Izmir since the late 1990s, unlike Ankara and Istanbul. The former mayor of the province, Ahmet Priştina, who was elected from the center-left Democratic Left Party (DSP), had shifted to the CHP in 2003. He died just a year after his victory in the 2004 local elections. After Priştina, Aziz Kocaoğlu, a businessman and then-mayor of Izmir's Bornova district, became mayor and has ruled the province since.
Kocaoğlu got 56.1 percent of the votes and secured a landslide victory in the 2009 local elections against the AK Party's liberal-leaning candidate Taha Aksoy, who received 30.3 percent of the votes. In the last municipal elections in 2014, former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım was the AK Party's mayoral candidate against Kocaoğlu. Even though AK Party votes increased to 35.92 percent, it was not enough to defeat the CHP that received 49.58 percent of the votes with Kocaoğlu. The MHP candidate came third with 8 percent of the votes.
Kocaoğlu announced in October that he won't seek another term in the local elections, and the CHP is yet to announce their candidates for the metropolitan municipality and district municipalities. Pundits have said that if the CHP fails to substitute Kocaoğlu with a proper candidate, a cutthroat competition could be seen for the metropolitan municipality in March 2019.
However, in the 2018 presidential and parliamentary elections, People's Alliance candidate President Erdoğan obtained 32.9 percent of the votes in Izmir while his main contestant, CHP's Muharrem Ince, received 54 percent, leading the race in 27 districts except Bayındır, Kemalpaşa and Kiraz. CHP's Nation Alliance partner right-wing Good Party (IP) candidate Meral Akşener came in third with 6.3 percent and pro-PKK Peoples' Democratic Party candidate Selahattin Demirtaş came in fourth with 6 percent.
In the race for parliament, the Nation Alliance received 53 percent of the votes (CHP - 41.1, IP - 10.9, SP - 0.8), the People's Alliance received 35 percent (AK Party - 28.7, MHP - 6.3) and the HDP received 11.5 percent. The CHP led the race in 24 districts against six districts carried out by the AK Party. The IP came in second or third in 18 districts, followed by the HDP in 11 districts.
While the opposition's strategy is not clear in Izmir, the CHP and the IP are likely to cooperate for the local election, and the HDP's voter base is expected to support the leading opposition candidate.
In the nationwide race, the ruling AK Party has so far announced its 74 provincial mayoral candidates, while CHP has announced 36 candidates, MHP 34 candidates, and IP 15 candidates.
AK Party has nominated Mehmet Özhaseki, its deputy chairman and a former environment and urbanization minister, for mayor of capital Ankara in the upcoming election. Meanwhile Yıldırım, current parliament speaker, will run for mayor in Istanbul.
CHP has nominated incumbent Beylikdüzü district mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu for mayor of Istanbul and 2014 candidate Mansur Yavaş for Ankara mayor.
Turkish local polls are held every five years to elect mayors of 30 metropolitan municipalities and 51 provincial municipalities.
Along with metropolitan, provincial and district mayors, voters will also elect municipal council members in cities and, in rural areas, muhtars and members of elder councils.
The last local elections were held on March 30, 2014, which saw AK Party clinch more than 45.5 percent of the vote.