Ankara’s opposition mayor outshines more famous Istanbul ally

The opposition mayor of Ankara, Mansur Yavaş, has lived in the shadows of his Istanbul counterpart, Ekrem Imamoğlu, since last year’s local elections.

İmamoğlu, also of the main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP), soared to international stardom by winning Istanbul, the city in which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan began his political career. The 50-year-old local politician ended over 25 years of rule by Erdoğan’s Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its predecessors.

While Yavaş’s ascent to the mayoral seat in the capital Ankara at the March 31 polls was not quite as eye-catching as İmamoğlu’s victory, it also put an end to nearly a quarter of a century of control over the city by the same pro-Islamist, right-wing bloc and that of Melih Gökçek, Ankara’s nationalist turned conservative mayor.

Gökçek was known for embarking on dozens of eccentric and costly public projects over a reign lasting from 1994 to 2017, when Erdoğan pressured him to resign. After beating Erdoğan’s hand-picked replacement in the election, Yavaş has since been applauded for freeing the administration of Ankara from the corruption and nepotism that prevailed during Gökçek's term.

The CHP mayor’s crackdown on nepotism and his services to the city, particularly during the CCOVID-19 outbreak, have helped him score the highest approval rating among 10 of Turkey’s leading metropolitan mayors, according to a survey by polling company PİAR.

The soft-spoken Yavaş has a public approval rating of 73 percent, well ahead of Muhittin Böcek, the mayor of the southern city of Antalya, who is the second most popular municipal leader with 64 percent support, according to PIAR. İmamoğlu has an approval rating of 54 percent.

Yavaş has also enjoyed the biggest rise in popularity among the 10 mayors since the elections of March last year, with an increase of 20 percentage points, almost seven times the increase for İmamoğlu.

So what is the reason for Yavaş’ rising popularity? As well as trying to clean up the city’s administration, the 65-year-old has focused on tackling poverty in Ankara, efforts that have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus in Turkey on March 11, the CHP mayor has launched an “Economic Protection Package” for workers unable to carry on with their normal jobs due to the pandemic and a fundraising drive for families hard hit by the financial fallout from the outbreak.

The municipal aid landed Yavaş in legal hot water, when Turkey’s Interior Ministry started a criminal probe against him in April. Erdoğan even went as far as to term such aid campaigns organised by opposition-held municipalities as attempts to form a parallel state.

But Yavaş remained undeterred as he continued to promote the aid drives. For example, he urged the wealthier residents of Ankara to help families in need by paying off their debts to grocers.

Yavaş also signed off on a campaign to provide food to families during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which ended on May 23.

“You have but a smile on the faces of hundreds of thousands,’’ Yavaş said on Twitter late last month, adding that municipal help for residents who were having trouble with paying water bills and transportation costs was ongoing.


Approval ratings of leading Turkish mayors (March 31 election results in brackets)

1- Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş (CHP): 73 percent (51 percent)

2- Antalya Mayor Muhittin Böcek (CHP): 64 percent (51 percent)

3- Aydın Mayor Özlem Teksioğlu (CHP): 63 percent (54 percent)

4- Konya Mayor Uğur Altay (AKP): 59 percent (71 percent)

5- Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu (CHP): 57 percent (54 percent)

6- Adana Mayor Zeydan Karalar (CHP): 57 percent (54 percent)

7- Eskişehir Mayor Yılmaz Büyükerşen (CHP): 56 percent (52 percent)

8 - Izmir Mayor Tunç Soyer (CHP): 56 percent (58 percent)

9- Gaziantep Mayor Fatma Şahin (AKP): 56 percent (54 percent)

10 -Kahramanmaraş Mayor Hayrettin Güngör (AKP): 54 percent (68 percent)