The Turkish President and head of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahceli, succeeded in rescuing the People’s Alliance, an electoral alliance, from disintegration. The two parties reached understandings whereby each of them makes concessions to the ally in some cities by not nominating two candidates for each city in order for the parties to back the other’s candidate.
Bahceli announced on 24 November that the MHP would not nominate anyone to head the municipalities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir in the local elections, but would instead support the AKP candidates. Meanwhile, Erdogan said that the AKP would not nominate candidates for some cities in order to support the MHP candidates, without actually naming these cities. The cities are expected to be announced in the near future, after another meeting is held between Erdogan and Bahceli.
Reviving the People’s Alliance has increased the chances of the AKP candidates in the three aforementioned major cities. Before the alliance, the chance for an AKP candidate to win in Istanbul and Ankara was equal to their chance of losing, if not less. However, now, we can say that the chances of an AKP candidate winning in either city are more likely than their chance of losing to an opposition candidate. As for Izmir, many analysts believe that the Republican People’s Party is closer to winning if voters do not put the interests of the municipality over their ideological fanaticism.
The AKP announced the nomination of Mehmet Ozhaseki as mayor of Ankara, and the nomination of former minister of economy Nihat Zeybekci as mayor of Izmir. The party has not yet announced the name of the candidate for Istanbul, but there has been speculation that Turkish parliament speaker Binali Yildirim will be the AKP’s candidate to head the country’s most important municipality.
There is no doubt that the names of candidates may increase the chances of a party or decrease them in the local elections. In this sense, we can say that the names announced by the AKP so far are successful because Mehmet Ozhaseki has been mayor of Kayseri for three terms and was one of the most successful mayors. He also took on the environment and urban planning portfolio in Binali Yildirim’s government. Furthermore, he has extensive experience in the local administration, which he acquired as mayor of Kayseri, and he is the deputy head of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in charge of local administrations. In addition to this, Ozhaseki will not find it difficult to obtain the votes of Turkish nationals in Ankara because he is not far from them.
In Istanbul, Binali Yildirim’s nomination is almost certain. At this point, the nomination of another candidate would be a big surprise. Some may ask, “What has delayed the announcement of Binali Yildirim’s candidacy?” perhaps the answer lies in the fact that Istanbul is the most important municipality in the country, as it is referred to as “little Turkey” in Turkish political circles, and that the party who wins it governs the entire country. The AKP is expected to announce its candidate for mayor of Istanbul in a large ceremony that is fitting for the city to have its standing in the eyes of Erdogan, who loves the city and served as its mayor in the past.
The Turkish media talked about other reasons for delaying the naming of the AKP candidate for mayor of Istanbul. They reported that Yildirim was asked to participate in the selection of candidates for the municipalities of the Istanbul districts on the pretext that he would work with them in governing the municipality if they win, and that Yildirim’s candidacy would be announce after choosing the candidates for the Istanbul districts.
There is another issue with the nomination of Binali Yildirim as mayor of Istanbul, namely that Yildirim currently holds the position of parliament speaker. Before that, he was prime minister. In the event of his nomination and victory, he will have to attend the welcoming ceremony to receive officials who were working under his command, but modifying the protocol rules can solve this problem.
The chances of the opposition candidates winning the upcoming local elections in Istanbul and Ankara were high, but they fell after the AKP and MHP reached their recent understandings. Discussions are under way between opposition parties to reach similar understandings to compete with the candidates of the People’s Alliance, but it will not be easy due to the differences in the demands of the many opposition parties.
This article first appeared in Arabi21 in Arabic on 5 December 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.