upa-admin 08 Ocak 2024 737 Okunma 0

Turkish President and AK Parti leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan finally announced his Islamist/conservative/nationalist bloc People’s Alliance’s (Cumhur İttifakı) candidate for the 2024 Istanbul local election that will take place on March 31, 2024. Erdoğan declared former Minister of Environment, Urbanization, and Climate Change (2018-2023) Murat Kurum as their candidate.[1] The main opposition party, pro-secular CHP’s (Republican People’s Party) leader Özgür Özel on the other hand already declared the incumbent Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu as their candidate.[2] In that sense, now we are sure of the two candidates that will be contesting for ruling the world’s one of the largest metropolitan cities with approximately 20 million population for the next 5 years. In this piece, I will analyze two candidates and assess their chances of winning the local election.

Murat Kurum (1976-) is a very young and successful politician. He was born in 1976 in Çankaya, Ankara as the son of a civil servant father from Konya.[3] His mother on the other hand is from Kızılcahamam, Ankara, and worked as a housewife. As the son of a civil servant father, Kurum spent years in various Turkish cities including Ankara, Konya, and Mardin, and learned different aspects of Turkish culture. He graduated from the construction engineering department of Konya Selçuk University in the year 1999, during the year when Kocaeli and some parts of Istanbul collapsed due to a huge earthquake (Gölcük earthquake of 1999). Following his graduation, Kurum also made his MA study at Selçuk University and specialized in urban transformation (gentrification). Having spent some years in professional firms and making some constructions, Kurum later began to work at TOKİ (Housing Development Administration of Türkiye) in 2005. With his good performance and ideological coherence with the AK Parti government, he was later appointed as the General Manager of Emlak Konut. Erdoğan made Kurum the new Minister of Environment, Urbanization, and Climate Change in 2018. Despite his enigmatic personality, Kurum did not engage in any corruption scandal during his Ministry. However, his zoning amnesty (imar affı) decisions and alleged anti-environmentalist policies made him an unpopular name among the left circles.[4] Kurum was elected AK Parti’s Istanbul deputy in the 2023 general elections in last May. Father of three children, Kurum gives the impression of a silent technocrat rather than a populist right-wing politician. After being declared as AK Parti and People’s Alliance’s Istanbul Mayoral candidate, Kurum stated that they would end the 5 years old interregnum period of Istanbul and win the election.[5]

There is no doubt that Murat Kurum is a good pick for Erdoğan due to his youth, technocratic style which appeals to the majority of people, and the lack of involvement in corruption cases or sex scandals. Moreover, Kurum specializes in gentrification and urban transformation, a quality that Istanbul definitely needs at a time when many important geologists such as Naci Görür and Celal Şengör constantly talk about the growing risk of a major earthquake in the city. However, Kurum has some deficiencies as well.

First of all, although he served 5 years as Minister and did important things, Kurum is unknown to the public, especially to Istanbul residents. Secondly, Kurum is from Ankara and Konya and does not have countryman (hemşehri) ties with Istanbulite voters. Thirdly, in Istanbul, due to huge migration flows starting from the 1950s, Karadeniz (Black Sea region) countryman networks are very strong, especially within the construction industry. It is no surprise that most of the recent Istanbul Mayors (Recep Tayyip Erdoğan-Rize, Kadir Topbaş-Artvin, and Ekrem İmamoğlu-Trabzon) are coming from Karadeniz background. So, this might be a disadvantage for Kurum to reach many people who attach special importance to countryman ties. Fourthly, Kurum’s rival Ekrem İmamoğlu is also a very successful and young politician. In Istanbul, if you take public transportation vehicles or attend a municipal building/residence, you can easily see that he started last year a comprehensive public relations (PR) campaign by praising his deeds and trying to give political messages that will appeal to all voters. Fifthly, due to fears of Türkiye’s transformation into a completely authoritarian state similar to Russia, many people having democratic inclinations, want to keep the main opposition party’s candidates in charge in metropolitan cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir. That is because the only aspect that keeps Türkiye’s regime still within the category of competitive authoritarianism, is the ability of the opposition parties (CHP in metropolitan and coastal cities and pro-Kurdish parties -HDP and now DEM Party- in Southeastern Anatolia) to rule municipalities of important cities. So, in case the CHP and DEM Party lose many of their controlled municipalities in the 2024 local elections, Türkiye’s complete transformation into an authoritarian dominant party system which would lead to elections that guarantee the winning of the governing party could be a real possibility shortly. But we should remember the fact that, during the reconstruction periods in Turkish history, such as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s reign a century ago, Turkish people and state elite might easily prefer authoritarian one-party rule. In fact, Atatürk and İsmet İnönü also implemented one-party rule between 1923 and 1950, a path that Erdoğan might imitate in the coming years.

Mansur Yavaş vs. Turgut Altınok

In Ankara on the other hand, AK Parti’s candidate will probably be former Keçiören Mayor Turgut Altınok. Similar to Istanbul, again, President Erdoğan’s choice seems perfect since Altınok is a very experienced and successful local politician from Ankara who is very well-known among the right-wing Islamist/nationalist circles due to his long career in Keçiören. But in Ankara, CHP has also a very bright candidate, the incumbent Mayor Mansur Yavaş who did many good things for the city and did not alienate any group within the society.

So, it seems like both in Istanbul and Ankara, there will be tight competition between the two parties this time and the difference between the candidates will be no higher than a few points. Pro-secular nationalist Good Party-İYİ Parti leader Meral Akşener’s recent decision not to support CHP candidates in that sense might help AK Parti and President Erdoğan to provide full control over the country and redesign the constitutional order freely -together with MHP- as they wish. CHP and DEM Party’s electoral success on the other hand will keep Türkiye within the league of flawed democracies by increasing the competitive aspects of the authoritarian-leaning regime.

Finally, I hope the Turkish people will make the right choice because unlike what President Erdoğan promised earlier (ver yetkiyi gör etkiyi), the authoritarian transformation of the country in recent years so far has not brought very productive results with poor economic performance and increasing legal disputes.

Assoc. Prof. Ozan ÖRMECİ







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