After two weeks, we will be heading to ballot box in order to elect the mayor of Istanbul, and I wonder if anything would be different in the election campaigns that we are witnessing if it were a general election to decide who would rule Turkey instead of a mayoral election.
The election will take place in Istanbul, but one of the candidates has been touring in cities on the Black Sea coast while the other is getting the eastern cities such as Diyarbakır and Sivas in no time flat. When they appear before the electorate and express their opinions, they are talking in a way that one would think they are running for the office to govern the whole country, but not for mayorship of a city.
The recent news around the possibility of a debate between the two candidates on screen reinforce this impression. All of us -including myself- have judged or speculated about possible consequences of such a prospective battle of words by making comparisons with some debates between political party leaders in the past, and even those in US presidential elections.
[Mehmet Acet from the daily Yeni Şafak shares this piece of news today, telling us that his source is some leading figures in AK Party: "The debate will be based on the method used in presidential elections in the USA, in other words, the both candidates will be asked same questions and enjoy same amount of time to respond to questions under strict rules."]
The perception replaced the truth
After thinking over possible reasons of why this local election is perceived rather like a general election, I have come to this conclusion: It seems to me that the mayoral election in Istanbul has reminded the people the very absence of something that we are getting aware of only recently: prime ministry…
There are enough reasons to conclude that we perceive the election in Istanbul as if it is contested in order to elect one of the candidates for filling the prime minster’s office.
We all know for sure, on the other hand, that this perception is wrong. What is going to happen soon is that the people of Istanbul will elect mayor of the city by their free will.
The perception I am talking about is something to do with the fact that Binali Yıldırım, the candidate of the ruling party, is overqualified for the position he was nominated for. He was a minister in several occasions, once the prime minister of the country, and the speaker of the parliament in the past. Even though he is now the candidate for mayorship of an important city such as Istanbul where one-fifth of the population live, he will still be seen overqualified for the task he will assume if elected.
A significant portion of the electorate are aware of this fact, and it was one of the reasons why he gathered less votes than expected in the election on March 31. While we are heading to the re-run on June 23, the change of the election in Istanbul in perceptions as if it is being contested for the prime minster’s office may mobilize the AK Party voters to go to ballot boxes and vote for him, who did not bother to vote or voted for another candidate for some reason in the last election in March.
What is interesting here is that the attempt for expanding the election campaign into other cities in Anatolia first came from Ekrem İmamoğlu, the opposition’s candidate. His visit to his hometown Trabzon and some other cities in the Black Sea region gave Binali Yıldırım the opportunity for doing the same.
Yıldırım’s landing in cities of Diyarbakır and Sivas as a part of his campaign was a conscious choice.
Lots of cities in our country are the target cities for domestic migration, but Istanbul comes at the top of the list in this regard. The city, which had a population of 3 million in 1970, is now home to 16 million people, and the residents with the origin of Istanbul constitutes a small minority in the city. People migrate from villages and small towns to large cities first, then move to Istanbul if they fail to find a better living there.
The number of people with the origins of Diyarbakır and Sivas living in Istanbul today are larger than the number of people who live in these cities.
According to what I hear, many people from lots of Anatolian cities are now running wild in streets of Istanbul in order to support election campaign of their favorite candidate by encouraging their relatives in Istanbul to vote in favor of their own candidate.
This is another aspect of the mayoral election in Istanbul which turns the election into something bigger than being a mere mayoral election.
An election with a high turnout but with a price
Many people initially anticipated the electoral turnout being relatively low for the election date coincides with summer season and many residents of the city go to holiday resorts. Now, this particular interest in the election also due to the change in perception may turn the election on June 23 into the one with the highest turnout rate in history.
Because İstanbul signifies such a great importance for several reasons, it is quite understandable that the election in Istanbul is beyond being a mere local election, and it is inevitable that the outcome of the election will have some impact on politics in the country. However, because both of the candidates have expanded the scope of the election beyond the city in their election campaigns, regardless of who would be the winner, the election result will bring a series of matters that not easy to anticipate beforehand into agenda.
What will decide the election’s outcome will be local sensibilities and issues rather than the political parties and their candidates. This may cause some real challenges for the elected mayor and the central government.
When looking from outside, it appears that the way the campaigns are conducted does not quite resemble earlier mayoral election campaigns we are closely familiar with. We somehowfeel a deeper wave has been set in motion, thus, what we are now witnessing is a more comprehensive and impactful type of campaign.
I suppose that what I mean here will be understood better after the election.
[Translated by Bernar Kutluğ from the the article appeared in this site’s Turkish section on June 10, 2019]