Turkish voters are likely to favor mayoral candidates with more experience in the March 31 local elections. "Turkish people traditionally have a high opinion of experience, age and the maturity of candidates which is most likely to catch the voter's attention," Oğuzhan Bilgin, a political analyst, told Daily Sabah. For the mayoral race in Ankara the People's Alliance's candidate Mehmet Özhaseki and Nation Alliance's candidate Mansur Yavaş are the most prominent candidates so far. Public polls show that the votes of both blocs' candidates have been very close. The two are neck and neck, hence making predictions almost impossible.
Considering Ankara's position as the capital and the second largest province of the country, where the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has been in office since 2003, the mayoral race is heating up.
However, between the two, Özhaseki has revolved his election campaign around focusing on his former experiences as both minister and mayor, in addition to his capabilities of implementing various projects for municipalities. Yavaş, on the other hand, has chosen to maintain a low-profile election campaign by not using the emblems of the parties he represents in banners, the parties being the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the far-right Good Party (İP). He has instead highlighted more vague promises, notably peace and justice.
Speaking to Daily Sabah, Nebi Miş, a political analyst, underscored that Özhakesi's previous posts as a minister and experienced mayor are highly probable in affecting voter's opinions as he
always puts forward his experiences as an advantage to carry Ankara a step forward.
Özhaseki is a former environment minister and is also the AK Party deputy chairman in charge of local administrations. He held the Kayseri mayor's office for more than 20 years and is experienced in urban development and management.
Although CHP's Yavaş seems to be inexperienced compared to Özhaseki in terms of his political career, he is also a well-known political figure in Ankara.
In the 2014 local elections, the CHP transferred the former district mayor of Ankara's Beypazarı, Yavaş, from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and nominated him against then-Ankara mayor Melih Gökçek who had been in office since 1994. However, Gökçek left Yavaş behind in a fierce competition by garnering 44.8 percent of votes. The CHP candidate got 43.8 percent of votes.
Indeed, one of the slogans used by Yavaş, translated as, "Justice will be served, Ankara will win" and refers to his close-win in 2014 and promises the residents of Ankara a win in the metropolitan municipality this time to serve the people.
In relation to peace and the remedy municipalism of Yavaş, Bilgin stressed that Yavaş's slogans are too cliched and have no baseline with voters since they lack concreteness.
Touching upon Yavaş's eschewing to use emblems of any parties, Bilgin emphasized that Yavaş wants to show that he is not a candidate represented by any party but the candidate of the people and aims to shine with his projects, away from polarization.
Voters prefer candidates proposing tangible projects
Along with slogans and promises, concrete projects are also one of the most significant components prioritized by voters, while deciding on candidates, Miş stated.
So far, Özhaseki has revealed his projects for Ankara, which mainly focus on culture and tourism, to break stereotypes and revitalize the province's hidden beauty. In addition to comprehensive infrastructural transportation projects, the reconstruction of the May 19 Stadium, which will be able to host 55,000 fans, the ski resort in the Elmadağ district, the completion of the Ankara exhibition center, the children's village and a new subway from the city center to the airport are among the projects announced by Özhaseki.
Similarly to his competitor, Yavaş also aims to increase areas where "children can get rid of their mobile phones and stroll around" and pledges to construct a 58-kilometer long metro line if elected. Yavaş also seeks to boost cultural life and tourism by reviving the historical Silk Road. He aims to create a route starting from Istanbul and passing by the historical Göynük, Taraklı, Mudurnu and Nallıhan districts. Investing in Ankara's thermal potential is another project by Yavaş.
Openly defying CHP; DSP may steal votes in some districts
Despite becoming the candidate of a party with a smaller voter base compared to the aforementioned ones, the Democratic Left Party's (DSP) Ankara Mayoral Candidate Haydar Yılmaz stands out as another candidate in Ankara who is determined to steal the votes of the CHP by openly challenging Yavaş in his discourses and election banners.
"Yılmaz thinks that his voter base is the same as the CHP. He wants to point out that DSP is the real party advocating for leftists while both the AK Party and CHP mostly represent rightists. By openly aiming at Yavaş, Yılmaz seeks to garner some votes from the CHP," Miş said.
Even though a change in the slogan of a minor party is not expected to create an overwhelming change, Bilgin predicts that it may steal some 2 to 3 percent of votes from the CHP in some districts. Miş consider the DSP's efforts as an attempt to reintroduce the party to the political arena again by a slight increase in votes.
Despite addressing similar voter bases since both are leftist parties, the CHP and the DSP have been critical of one another for quite some time, both blaming each other for letting the AK Party win elections. During the process of determining municipal candidates, a number of candidates who were turned down by the CHP have announced that they would run under the DSP banner, fueling the dispute. Yılmaz, who served as the mayor of Ankara's central Çankaya district between 1999 and 2004, is also among the people who resigned from the CHP, joining the ranks of the DSP. CHP accuses the DSP of dividing votes by dispossessing some CHP members by showing them as municipal candidates in the local elections.
National interest a focus for voters
Experts agree that the rhetoric of the AK Party and MHP which puts emphasis on national interests will likely have a greater impact on voters' decision in the upcoming elections if promises are transformed into concrete steps.
Stressing that nationalistic tendencies in the world and in Turkey are on the rise, Miş underscored that this rhetoric appeals to both the current voter base of the People's Alliance and voters favoring other parties.
He added that not only the AK Party and MHP, but also the CHP and İP realize such tendencies and have carved out their election strategies accordingly since the İP changed its rhetoric to a nationalist one since the June 24 elections, while the CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is using the "grey wolf" gesture, a highly nationalistic sign, in some of his rallies.
During their election rallies throughout the country, the AK Party and MHP put utmost significance on the role of the local elections in maintaining national interest and survival of Turkey. The parties assert that they have overcome multiple threats posed by several terrorist organizations including the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), PKK, and its Syrian affiliate the People's Protection Units (YPG); and still continue to fight against them.
Along with the lack of any strategy put forward by the opposition parties, the People's Alliance claim that if they were to fail in metropolitan cities in the March 31 elections, it opens the ruling party's legitimacy to discussions, putting national interest in jeopardy.
Pointing at municipalities' role in preserving national interest, Bilgin underscored that the construction vehicles and trucks that prevented military tanks in the July 15 2016 coup attempt, were vehicles of the municipalities.
"Another threat to the national interest is the Nation Alliance's cooperation with the Peoples' Democratic Party [HDP]. The People's Alliance puts emphasis on the national interest for this reason due to the HDP municipalities' previous roles in digging ditches for the PKK," Bilgin underlined.
The HDP, which Ankara accuses of supporting the PKK terrorist group, and whose mayors have also been accused of undermining municipal services, allowed the PKK to dig ditches on streets and launch attacks on police and soldiers. As a result, Turkey removed the elected administrations of 93 municipalities in the region for their links to the PKK terrorist group and appointed trustees to these municipalities in 2016.
Slogans of Ankara mayoral candidates:
People's Alliance candidate Mehmet ÖZHASEKİ
- Ankara deserves experience
- Put our signature on Ankara with production
- Hometown's business is business in the heart
Nation Alliance candidate Mansur YAVAŞ
- Justice will be served, Ankara will win
- Mansur, abundance and peace
- Understanding, order, wisdom
DSP candidate Haydar YILMAZ
- Not Slow, Slow but Haydar, Haydar (Referring to Mansur Yavaş's surname, which means "slow" in Turkish)
- Two acrobats cannot dance on the same rope; the people of Ankara will not fall for it
- Haydar Yılmaz, an individual with your values