All Politics is Local, 2014: Worse Than You Think

 Mustafa-Sarıgül

 

“The Istanbul Greater Municipality is Turkey’s richest institution. Its authority, endless; its money, endless. A state within a state. It is in large degree from Istanbul that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) feeds its allies. Istanbul isn’t just Turkey’s—it is one of the world’s—biggest sources of rent. In return for a bribe, whichever supporter the municipality decides to give property to, in that instant, wins a trillion lira. Then come towers, residences, malls, and the gravy train. Supports large and small are given jobs, zoning plans are played with, zoning for green spaces is taken, and who ever reaps the rewards is sure to share a bit of that fearsome money with you. With Istanbul’s rents, frightening resources can be directed towards allies. Istanbul is the door to victory for the ruling party.” Emin Çölaşan, “The Case of Mustafa Sarıgül,” Sözcu, December 12, 2013 [1]

 

On Thursday, Mustafa Sarıgül, the mayor of Istanbul’s Şişli municipality, officially applied to Republican People’s Party (CHP), asking the organization to name him as its candidate for mayor. Despite a challenge from Gürsel Tekin, a party stalwart, Sarıgül’s eventual nomination is largely a fait accompli.[2] Following candidate announcements by the other major parties, Sarıgül’s confirmation will mean that the basic outlines of March 2014’s election have become clear. The ruling AKP has re-nominated the current mayor, millionaire pastry-shop owner and architecture historian, Kadir Topbaş; the National Action Party (MHP) has nominated Rasim Acar, a former provincial party head [3]; and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has nominated Sırrı Süreyya Önder, a film direct and member of parliament who was very prominent during the Gezi Park protests this summer. [4]

Common wisdom has it that Sarıgül “is considered the only figure who could possibly rival” the AKP.[5] We can think about why this might be in coming weeks (and coming blog posts), but first it is worth considering the scale of the challenge facing Sarıgül—or any CHP candidate hoping to defeat the AKP.

In the last municipal election in 2009—long before the Gezi protests—the AKP won with 44.2% of the vote to the CHP’s 37%. This time around, it is conceivable that this difference of 7.2% could be over come by drawing votes from the MHP and BDP whose combined share was 9.7%. Supplemented by increased turnout from voters actively disenchanted with the government—and assuming Islamist voters giving their votes to the more avowedly Islamist Felicity Party (SP)—this strategy might constitute a path to victory.

Then again, “might” is the key word. A less optimistic picture of the electoral landscape takes shape when we look closer. According to official statistics, the population of Istanbul is around 14 million people divided unevenly between thirty-nine municipalities. [6] The largest thirteen are:

Population

% of Total Population

AKP %

CHP %

% Difference

Bağcılar

749.024

5.4

49.2

18.7

30.5 AKP

Küçükçekmece

721.910

5.2

47.2

29.4

17.8 AKP

Ümraniye

645.237

4.7

43.9

22.3

13.6 AKP

Pendik

625.797

4.5

31.9

43.3

12.4 CHP

Bahçelievler

600.162

4.3

47.5

35.0

12.5 AKP

Esenyurt

553.369

4.0

42.2

31.7

10.5 AKP

Üsküdar

535.916

3.9

37.9

29.3

8.6   AKP

Kadıköy

521.005

3.8

21.9

68.4

46.5 CHP

Sultangazi

492.212

3.6

48.4

20.1

28.3 AKP

Gaziosmanpaşa

488.258

3.5

44.2

20.4

23.9 AKP

Esenler

458.694

3.5

47.5

13.7

31.7 AKP

Maltepe

460.955

3.3

37.9

51.7

13.8 CHP

Kartal

443.293

3.2

37.9

41.3

3.4   CHP

52.9 (% of TOTAL)

 

The most populated third of the municipalities contain about half of all Istanbul residents. Of these municipalities, the AKP won all but four, and generally won them by large margins. More significantly, when the CHP lost, the loss was often a rout. In Bağcılar, for example, the largest municipality in the city, less than two in ten voters cast their ballots for the CHP. Though the AKP did not quite crack the 50% mark, this failure can be attributed to votes siphoned off by the even more conservatively Muslim SP—the same dynamic holds true in Ümraniye, the third largest municipality. In Pendik, the largest municipality the CHP won, the party could not break 50% either—but, unlike in AKP strongholds, the other 24.6% of the votes did not go to a like-minded party, but was instead split between the SP (10.2%), the MHP (6%), and DTP (2.7%).

Put another way, in its ten strongest municipalities, the AKP won by huge margins if we include the SP votes as well. Given that the SP is a splinter of AKP, essentially the party of Necmettin Erbakan, the old, marginalized (and now dead) founder of Turkey’s Islamist movement—and given that his successor has become a member of the AKP since the last election—combining the two parties votes is hardly cooking the books.

Municipality

% of Total

AKP %

SP %

“Conservative Vote” %

Bağcılar

5.4

49.2

13

62.3

Küçükçekmece

5.2

47.2

3.2

50.4

Ümraniye

4.7

43.9

21

64.9

Bahçelievler

4.3

47.5

3.9

51.4

Esenyurt

4.0

42.2

NA

42.2

Üsküdar

3.9

37.9

20.5

58.4

Sultangazi

3.6

48.4

13

61.4

Gaziosmanpaşa

3.5

44.2

14.7

58.9

Esenler

3.5

47.5

18.1

65.6

Fatih

3.1

42.8

13.4

56.2

41.4 (TOTAL)

In contrast, in the ten largest CHP municipalities, the party typically stayed under fifty percent. The parties competing with the CHP in these municipalities—the MHP, SP, and DTP—have far greater differences with the CHP than the AKP does with the SP. In other words, while the threat of losing control of the mayor’s race could unite the AKP with the SP, the possibility of wresting control of the city from the AKP may not be enough to bring these disparate parties together. The MHP has a highly nationalist streak; while it opposes the AKP’s relatively tolerant policies towards Kurds and dislikes its attempts to open up secular spaces to Islamist practices, it also dislikes the socialist bent of the CHP. The DTP—in 2009, the main Kurdish party, now reformed under a new name—is the opposite in so far as its voters have experienced years of repression in the name of the “Kemalist” values championed by the CHP. This treatment has led its voters to instinctively distrust the CHP—not for nothing did the CHP win a mere 0.5% of the mayoral vote in the southeast Kurdish city of Diyarbakır.

Municipality

% of Total Population

CHP %

Non-CHP/AKP Parties With Over 3 %

Pendik

4.5

43.3

SP (10.8) MHP (6) DTP (2.7)

Kadıköy

3.8

68.4

MHP (3.6)

Maltepe

3.3

37.9

SP (3.1)

Kartal

3.2

37.9

MHP (7.7) SP (5.4) DTP (3.1)

Avcılar

2.9

48.5

MHP (5.3)

Ataşehir

2.9

41.2

MHP (6.8) SP (5.7)

Şişli

2.3

18.5*

DSP (54.7)

Sarıyer

2.1

37.5

MHP (18.1) DSP (5.8) SP (3)

Büyükçekmece

1.5

44.0

MHP (7.3)

Beşiktaş

1.3

68.9

DSP (7.6) MHP (4.3)

27.8 (TOTAL)

* In his Şişli municipality, Sarıgül’s DSP party dominates, but like the SP to the AKP, the DSP is essentially a splinter faction of the CHP.

One can make many criticisms of these statistics—first and foremost, the mayoral election is a citywide contest and, thus, looking at individual municipalities as though they were American states makes little sense. However, municipalities do have significance: each has its own mayor and which party dominates a municipality effects both the municipality’s access to financial largesse and the ease with which its voters can be mobilized at election time.

Most importantly, many of the most salient arguments against the AKP’s management during the past ten years—its disregard for green spaces, its willingness to allow tacky new projects in historical neighborhoods, its imposition of conservative nightlife regulations—effect a very small percentage of the city’s neighborhoods, containing a comparatively small portion of the population. If Sarıgül is to raise the CHP’s vote sufficiently enough to defeat the AKP, he will have to peel off voters from the ruling party and/or appeal to huge numbers of voters who typically support other opposition parties.

Whether he can accomplish this remains to be seen.

[BACK TO TOP]


[1] Emin Çölaşan, “Mustafa Sarıgül vakası,” Sözcu, 12/2/13. Çölaşan then went on by asking a series of rhetorical questions like “Is [Sarıgül ] a good mayor?” and “Is his past clean?” Proving his journalistic usefulness, he answered these questions with “I don’t know” and continued on to make general criticisms of the AKP. 

[3] Hakkımda,” Rasim Acar. Accessed12/12/13. 

[6] “Populations statistics come from “İstanbul İl ve İlçe Alan Bilgileri,” Istanbul Buyuksehir Belediye, Accessed 12/6/13. Available: . Election 2009 statistics come from 29 MART 2009 YEREL SEÇİM SONUÇLARI,” Haberler.com, Accessed 12/6/13.

Advertisements