Turkey's ruling party swipes opposition ideas on jobs, farming

In the run-up to Turkey’s March 31 local elections, opposition parties have been subjected to repeated attacks from top ruling party officials and pro-government media, leading to serious allegations and even legal action against all three of the major opposition parties’ leaders, as well as their candidates for Turkey’s top mayoral posts.

But accusations of corruption against main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayoral candidate for Ankara, Mansur Yavaş, charges of insulting the president against centre-right Good Party leader Meral Akşener, and frequent smears of the opposition for supporting terror have failed to dim enthusiasm for their policies.

The CHP has led the way, bringing two vital issues to the table through innovative projects. The first of these is the party’s vow to prioritise agricultural development in the urban periphery by encouraging municipalities to support area farmers.

Tunç Soyer, CHP mayoral candidate for Izmir, the secularists’ stronghold in western Turkey, has enacted proven policies in the nearby town of Seferhisar, where he has served as mayor since 2009.

Soyer introduced agricultural cooperatives and measures to reinvigorate the local seed growing trade and developed a model in which the local administration buys products directly from local farms to be sold at local shops.

These policies have brought substantial benefits to local farmers, revitalising local species of fruits and vegetables and giving life to local vineyards, which have been producing highly rated wine as a result.

The CHP mayoral candidate for Istanbul, Ekrem İmamoğlu, has offered similar support to agriculture during his time as mayor of Beylikdüzü, a district on the western rim of Istanbul’s European side. Under his administration, residents have been offered free use of allotments to grow crops and raise livestock. The CHP mayor also implemented projects to support dairy and meat producers.

İmamoğlu has promised to implement the same model across the Istanbul metropolitan municipality if he is elected, a policy he says has the potential to lead the city towards food self-sufficiency. This would be based on local producer cooperatives selling their goods directly to local markets and to national supermarket chains.

Yavaş has been subject to the most intense attack of any politician running. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the latest to join a smear campaign that began this month, when a case was launched against the CHP mayor for alleged abuse of power while working as a lawyer a decade ago.

Erdoğan warned the people of Ankara that if Yavaş was found guilty, they may be forced to suffer the consequences as well. But residents of the Beypazarı district of Ankara, where Yavaş served as mayor from 1999 to 2009, have seen the benefits he brought both to agriculture and tourism.

Yavaş has focused once again on policies that aim to develop Ankara’s agricultural sector, promising support to local fruit and vegetable producers and vineyards and vowing to bring down prices of agricultural produce.

Candidates from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have adopted similar policies, with Izmir candidate Nihat Zeybekçi promising to support Izmir’s wine industry and Ankara candidate Mehmet Özhaseki offering subsidies to farmers on the city’s outskirts.

Özhaseki has also made ambitious pledges towards the second big issue in the local election campaign, job creation.

Turkey entered a recession in late 2018, and the economy has shown little sign of improvement. The latest unemployment rate of 13.5 marks a 10-year high.

The AKP has offered vast – and likely unsustainable – subsidies in a drive to boost employment this year. Özhaseki’s promises of massive public projects, which include plans to build a canal between two lakes and “bring the beach” to landlocked Ankara will, he says, provide thousands of jobs for locals.

İmamoğlu’s vows to increase local production and establish nurseries, libraries and cultural centres in every neighbourhood are less flashy, but the CHP man says they can bring as many as 150,000 new jobs for women and young people in Istanbul.

His rival from the AKP, Binali Yıldırım, initially scoffed at İmamoğlu for discussing employment, which he said was not in a mayor’s purview. But later Yıldırım, too, began to pledge more jobs, initially promising 250,000 new jobs, but then doubling that figure to half a million.

The AKP also appears to have taken inspiration from İmamoğlu’s pledge to build a massive new library in Istanbul, besides his other pledges to create public facilities. Erdoğan stepped in to announce a project remarkably similar to the CHP candidate’s promised library, and candidates for the ruling party have lined up to pledge voters new libraries, nurseries, youth and women’s centres, much like İmamoğlu.

Erdoğan had objected to the CHP candidates’ projects, demanding answers on where they intended to find funding for them. Yet it appears the president has noticed the public excitement about these proposals, and consequently shifted his party’s focus away from its famous mega-projects and toward pledges for eco-friendly projects that meet the needs of women and children.

All of this goes against the grain for the AKP, which has spent its 17 years in power encouraging major construction projects around the country. The ruling party’s agricultural policies, meanwhile, left it forced to blame skyrocketing food prices on “food terrorism” and set up municipally subsidised fruit and vegetable stands just weeks before the elections.

In short, the AKP’s attempts to turn the narrative of the local elections towards a question of survival against the threat of terrorism have evidently not met with the anticipated response from the public. As a result, the ruling party has been forced to embrace the policies and proposals of the opposition.  

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.
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