ISTANBUL BLOG: Turkey to decide who will collect garbage in unglamorous local polls

ISTANBUL BLOG: Turkey to decide who will collect garbage in unglamorous local polls
Fighting for the future of ... municipal services. / Sakhalinio, cc-by-sa 4.0
By Akin Nazli in Belgrade March 29, 2024

Turkey, a seriously unitary state, goes to the polls for local elections this Sunday March 31. The country has been governed from Ankara for about a century and by a single man since 2017 when the Turks said “Yes” in a constitutional referendum that did away with the parliamentary republic and invested any power worth having in the “executive president”.

Local municipalities in Turkey collect garbage, operate water utilities and attend to other commonplace stuff. They are important in that they distribute the building permits (i.e. they decide who will make the money to be had from construction projects) and run tenders (i.e. they decide who will grow rich from their spending).

That is all they do.

There are those who say—and they’re really not that hard to find given their vast number—that since 2015, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has in reality lost consecutive elections. He remains in power, they advise, because there are backroom operators who deliver fake victories. But that’s not his fault. How could he know?

At the previous local elections, held in 2019, more than a sprinkling of hope emerged that the regime’s days were numbered after the opposition (or the “so-called opposition” as many are fond of saying) won both Istanbul and Ankara.

In Ankara, Mansur Yavas won with such a landslide that there was no way anyone could arrange to steal his margin. Previously, in 2014, he also won but his victory was stolen by thieves on election night. The leadership and management of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) failed to come to his aid and he was unable to fight back.

While Ankara in 2019 demonstrated that a thick margin cannot be stolen, events in Istanbul proved even more sensational.

In Istanbul, the CHP party head for the city, Canan Kaftancioglu, managed to keep tabs on every single ballot box. Sure, it was not possible to zero the thievery. But the CHP’s candidate Ekrem Imamoglu—who this Sunday will attempt to secure re-election as mayor—held regular press briefings throughout the night to share the CHP’s own developing data on counted votes (rather than the data provided by Erdogan regime organs such as the Anadolu news agency or YSK High Election Board).

At the conclusion of the count, the CHP managed to prove that Imamoglu had attracted a few thousand more votes than the Erdogan candidate. The margin was slight, but it was undeniable.

Frustrated by the outcome, the regime alleged irregularities and demanded a rerun. Its wish was granted, only for Imamoglu to win the second poll with a landslide.

The message was obvious. If you can arrange to control all ballot boxes nationwide and deliver a landslide, it is possible to end the Erdogan reign.

But if Turkey’s opposition is skilled at one thing, then it is the art of crushing hope. Responding to the lessons learned from Ankara and Istanbul, the CHP should have wasted no time in immediately setting about creating a ballot box monitoring system that could go national in preparation for the general election.

Instead, the party leadership, along with several other parties that formed a broad opposition coalition, held meetings. And more meetings. Finally, just a few months before the May 2023 parliamentary and presidential polls, a row broke out over who should be named the coalition’s joint candidate for the presidency.

Finally, a candidate was agreed upon. The worst candidate possible, namely the now ex-CHP chair Kemal Kilicdaroglu, a legendary loser. And, as election night unfolded, it became clear that Erdogan’s opponents had again failed to control around a third of the ballot boxes.

The level of stupidity on display from this crowd always fuels suspicions over whether these apparent fools are directly controlled by the regime, with the electorate actually watching the delivery of a theatrical performance.

Nevertheless, the 2023 national elections truly were the end. They killed all hope. The desperate optimism of millions of people was eviscerated.

Right now, the noise from politicians and the media over the upcoming election day is at a height. They can’t help themselves, it’s a Pavlovian (or lazy, if you like) response. Though, they should, of course, know better by now.

For those still interested in who will collect garbage in Istanbul and Ankara, Imamoglu and Yavas look likely to hold on to their posts in the absence of serious thievery.

Their rivals have proved farcical. The regime, now in its third decade, appears to be suffering from stunted growth. There is a sickliness and stagnation and a lack of AKP candidates with any real merit.

The next general election is scheduled for 2028, with the next local elections to follow the year after that. Four long years till the next major vote should be far too depressing to think about for the opposition parties. Clearly, anti-Erdogan camps in the country need re-energising in order to explore any avenue that could lead to a snap poll. But it’s almost as if those with snug roles within the established opposition are only too happy to keep the comfortable (for them) status quo. Assembling a spirited cast to fight for an early election would be a tall order.