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The view from Ankara: How might Yavaş' mayoral performance impact elections?
On March 6, when CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu announced his presidential candidacy for the Nation Alliance, he was flanked by not just six opposition party leaders, but also İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu and Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş.
The two mayors are expected to serve as vice presidents under Kılıçdaroğlu if he wins this month’s elections, and while İmamoğlu has been in the media spotlight since taking office in 2019, there’s been much less publicity about Yavaş, especially in foreign media.
The contrast is striking considering Yavaş often polled higher than other potential presidential candidates before the March 6 announcement ended further debates about his prospects. Yavaş is now on the campaign trail, vying to play a key role in a future opposition government, but what might he bring to the Table of Six?
To get a sense of Yavaş’ impacts on the upcoming elections, Turkey recap asked Ankara residents how they viewed their current mayor’s performance. While some respondents were generally satisfied following initial apprehensions, others continue to scrutinize his nationalist roots, which have been cited as a potential repellent for minority voters.
Before joining the CHP, Yavaş served as mayor of Beypazarı under the ultranationalist MHP. Despite this background, pro-Kurdish HDP voters overwhelmingly supported Yavaş’ 2019 candidacy for the Ankara mayorship, helping him defeat the AKP candidate.
Still, the relationship between Yavaş and supporters of the Kurdish rights movement remains fraught.
During an April 19 speech in Sinop, Yavaş said, “Terrorists are terrorists. There is no distinction between PKK members or HÜDA PAR members. We are against all of them, we will remove them all."
Reacting to Yavaş’ speech, Ankara resident Adem Yıldız told Turkey recap he believed such rhetoric would not contribute to a solution for the Kurdish issue.
“The government is terrorizing the main opposition to prevent it from gaining Kurdish votes,” Yıldız said. “But as the main opposition responds to these attacks, they’re also signaling they can’t take a different path on the Kurdish question than other governments [took in the past].”
He added, “The opposition has to present something related to democratic solutions if they want Kurdish votes.”
Another Ankara resident, İzzet Ergin, said he was a long-time supporter of leftist parties, but made an exception in 2019 and voted for Yavaş because he wanted a change in the municipal government.
Since then, Ergin believes Yavaş’ management of the city has gained him support from citizens of all political backgrounds. But in response to this rising popularity, Ergin complained the AKP-majority Ankara city council has been trying to impede initiatives and projects presented by the Yavaş municipality, sometimes with polarizing rhetoric.
“According to the government, when AKP meets HDP, the HDP isn’t a 'terrorist' party, but when CHP meets HDP, it becomes a 'terrorist' party. And people believe this, too,” Ergin said.
He continued, “We’re really tired of politics that polarize people. We’re still discussing rule of law, justice, peace and freedom in our country. The world is talking about technological developments and we have these problems.”
In a video shared on Twitter last month, Kılıçdaroğlu detailed the roles both Yavaş and İmamoğlu would play in his government, tasking Yavaş with oversight of agricultural and technological developments.
In the same video, Yavaş pledged to remove “the foreign exchange burden from the shoulders of the farmers” and to support rural development models that would prioritize self-sufficiency.
Ankara resident Halil Yıkılmaz, who works in the agriculture sector, said he voted against Yavaş in 2019, giving the reason that his family has always voted for conservatives.
Yet when he observed Yavaş as the mayor of Ankara, Yıkılmaz said his views changed. As a farmer, Yikilmaz said he benefited directly from agricultural support provided under Yavaş’ leadership.
“With the rise in foreign exchange, the prices of diesel, seeds and fertilizers have increased substantially,” Yikilmaz told Turkey recap, adding the last harvest was damaged by drought.
“The seed and fertilizer support from Yavaş during this period has been a lifeline for us,” Yikilmaz continued. “Of course, farmers need to be supported more and the economy needs to be improved. It’s difficult for us to survive with this inflation.”
Mahmut Acar, another Ankara voter from the right, said he voted for Yavaş in 2019. The reason he cited was that Yavaş came from a right-wing background, so it was not exactly changing sides for him when he voted for a CHP mayor. But since then, Acar said he’s been unhappy with the economic situation.
“Yavaş has supported us a bit with financial aid,” Acar told Turkey recap. “But the fact that every day we open our eyes to increased prices makes this support insufficient.”
He continued, “We used to go to the market with 100-200 liras, and that would be enough but now we spend much more and we can't buy anything. Even a kilo of onions is 30 liras. How will this work?”
“We’ve seen from Yavaş' municipal performance that more social assistance can be provided to the public if wanted."
Hacer Kurt, who’s also not satisfied with Yavaş' mayorship, said she wants more work opportunities for women, adding her purchasing power has slumped as Turkey’s economic crisis continues without improvement.
“When we go to the market, everything is so expensive,” Kurt told Turkey recap. “If we used to buy 1-2 kilos. Now we buy half that. We stopped buying fruit. I don't know what happened. We weren't like this before.”
She continued, “My husband works and makes a salary of 10,000 liras, but the money runs out before it even enters the house. We had some savings and we [own our] house. What would we have done if we were renting?”
“We don't want to think about how we're going to make it to the end of the month anymore."
Meanwhile, Ankara resident Halil Bayram said he believed Yavaş’ administration has been less effective on the ground than the previous AKP municipality.
“There is neither road nor pavement [reconstruction] work,” Bayram said. “We used to see them. The parks are also not as clean as before. That's why I'm not very happy."
In contrast to Bayram, Murat Karayel, another Ankara resident, said continuous maintenance work on roads and sidewalks was not the only function of government, and that resources could be better spent elsewhere to help residents.
“Okay, the AK Party is bragging that they build roads and pavement, but this has turned into an area of corruption,” Karayel told Turkey recap. “There is no problem with our pavement. You see, they remove it and build it again. Isn't that a waste?”
He continued, “I think with Yavaş this waste has been prevented to some extent. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been able to provide social aid.”
Diego Cupolo, co-founder + editor @diegocupolo
Gonca Tokyol, freelance journalist @goncatokyol
Ingrid Woudwijk, freelance journalist @deingrid
Verda Uyar, freelance journalist @verdauyar
Gökalp Badak, editorial intern @gklpbdk