Turkish popstar dreams of Ministry for Women's Affairs

By bne IntelliNews July 20, 2007

Nicholas Birch in Istanbul -

"Lediz and gentlemena…. Are you readiiiii? Van, two, tri, foru!"

Like all campaign buses in the noisy run-up to Turkey's parliamentary elections on Sunday, July 22 the Mercedes coach fizzing through Istanbul's western suburbs comes complete with an impressive sound system. What distinguishes this one is that the nasal voice blaring a hip-hop version of a popular folk song out of the speakers belongs to the man waving at passers-by from the front seat.

Born in a cave in the southeastern city of Urfa, 55-year-old Ibrahim Tatlises is Turkey's most famous popstar, his albums topping charts throughout the Middle East.

Now he's aiming for parliament and a posting as the country's new Minister for Women's Affairs. "I've got a bad reputation, I know", he says, referring to a string of girlfriends who've turned up on TV sporting black eyes he gave them. "But I'm a good family man. Women like me."

He's right. Girls strolling through Avcilar collapse into giggles as he blows kisses at them. Elderly ladies in headscarves wave furiously when he kisses his hand and puts it to his forehead in a typical Turkish gesture of respect.

But Tatlises' attraction isn't just limited to the gentler sex. Honking excitedly, one man nearly drives his Fiat into a roundabout as the coach speeds by. A photographer in the cortege is besieged by requests for souvenir shots with the great man.

"Petrol station workers, dear policemen, enjoy your work, the emperor of the oppressed is coming," intones Ersin Gok, a former deputy who's running Tatlises' campaign.

When Tatlises does arrive, to a square in Esenyurt decked with flags from a dozen different parties, 2,000 people rush to greet him.

"I know what it's like to be hungry," Tatlises, whose business empire extends from luxury shirts to a chain of kebab restaurants, bellows from the roof. "Vote for me, and on my honour as a man, you'll never be in need again."

Triumph of hope over experience

Back down below, his shirt open to his waist and a bodyguard fanning him with a towel, Tatlises is as excited as a child. "Did you see the crowd? Parliament here I come."

The polls suggest otherwise. The party he is running for, Genc Parti, was the surprise of 2002 elections, coming from nowhere to win 7.5% of the vote. Since then, its fortunes have dipped with the fortunes of the family of Turkish tycoons, the Uzans, who founded it. Convicted by a US court in 2003 of defrauding mobile phone giant Motorola of $2bn, the Uzans have had the bulk of their empire confiscated since by the Turkish state.

Without the television channels and newspapers that the tycoon Cem Uzan used to such striking effect last time round, his party looks lucky to win more than 5% on Sunday.

Some would say that's a good thing. Genc Parti's promises to slash petrol prices, raise unemployment benefits and heavily subsidise hazelnut sales would make short work of a Turkish economy still recovering from the massive economic crisis in 2001.

The party's failure won't be the fault of Tatlises, though. His political boss broke, he's financed his campaign from his own pocket. "I think he's in it just for the kicks", says the campaign's logistics chief, Tanju Birlik.

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