CHP’s Dedetaş becomes Üsküdar’s first female mayor, ending decades of conservative rule

Oppositional candidate Sinem Dedetaş won Istanbul’s conservative Üsküdar district by a wide margin of seven percentage points, taking up the helm of a former AKP stronghold, home to Erdoğan’s private residence.

Duvar English

In front of dozens of cameras and loud cheers, Sinem Dedetaş of the Republic People’s Party (CHP) officially received her mandate for Üsküdar’s mayorship on April 4.

“I am very happy and proud to be the first female mayor of Üsküdar, which has been my home since my student years,” Dedetaş said.

Following decades of conservative rule, Üsküdar, situated along Istanbul’s Bosphorus and home to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s private residence, has now fallen into the hands of the secular social democrats — a victory emblematic of the unexpected success of the CHP in the March 31 elections.

Amidst low voter turnout and economic disparities, Turkey’s oldest political party achieved its best electoral outcomes since 1977, overtaking numerous long-standing Justice and Development Party (AKP) strongholds.

Incumbent mayor Hilmi Türkmen, a prominent figure in Üsküdar politics for nearly twenty years and an AKP loyal since the party’s onset, suffered defeat by nearly seven percentage points to Dedetaş after two terms in office.

‘’I congratulate Sinem Dedetaş and wish her success with her assignment,’’ Türkmen said following his loss.

During her campaign, Dedetaş vowed to address urban planning issues, implement earthquake-resistant urban renewal, and prioritize transparent and good governance.

Under AKP rule, Üsküdar, like many other municipalities, became a cash cow for cronies, with public funds funneled to party-affiliated companies through tenders.

Right before the transition of municipal leadership to the CHP, a deal worth over 1.9 million liras was struck with an AKP-member-owned firm for "su böreği," a traditional pastry made from thin sheets of dough.

Dedetaş, a marine engineer by trade, made waves as the first female manager at Şehir Hatları, Istanbul’s public ferry service.

Appointed by Ekrem İmamoğlu after assuming Istanbul’s mayorship in 2019, Dedetaş played a pivotal role in revitalizing the Haliç Shipyard, located alongside Istanbul’s historic Golden Horn.

The oldest operating shipyard in the world languished in near-idleness, following largely shelved plans to privatize the area into a luxurious resort of 5-star hotels and shopping malls. Dedetaş heavily opposed these plans before taking up her role at Şehir Hatları.

Under her wing, Haliç’s revenue surged from 1 million liras (30 thousand dollars) in 2019 to 163 million liras (five million dollars) in 2022, with the shipyard taking up prestigious projects such as restoring Istanbul’s oldest passenger ferry, the Paşabahçe.

Dedetaş’s win comes amid a broader trend of women succeeding in Turkey’s local elections, with the number of female mayors doubling to 11 out of 81 provinces and 61 women assuming office in Turkey’s 922 districts.

(English version by Wouter Massink)