Turkey is locked into a single issue and it is not the new wave of Turkey bound refugees from Idlib. It is the mega Canal İstanbul project. It appears, from night shows on TV and the ferocious statements by politicians, that there is a debate in the country. In fact, there is a debate but one over political divisions and identities and not one over facts. This is a project that will have consequences from a military, environment and economic perspective that are long lasting and irreversible. A technical and convincing debate must take place.
Prior to 1994 municipal elections, a similar project was advocated by the late Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit. Now, main opposition CHP ,the ideological sister of Bülent Ecevit’s DSP, opposes the project at all costs. In 1994, then the mayoral candidate Erdoğan opposed the idea strongly. Since 2011, he is the champion of the project. In 2011, then in opposition MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli trashed the project and now, as part of the ruling alliance, he trashes the ones who are opposing it. The supporters of each political party follow suit. Once again, the issue is highly polarized on political divides.
The fact of the matter is public does not have adequate knowledge of the project. Indeed, it is not just digging a canal that connects the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea a second time. Among other things a “smart city” of 500K inhabitant is planned to be built along the Canal. In a nation wide survey we conducted at TurkiyeRaporu.com during the first week of December, it turned out that the knowledge on project is staggeringly low. About 49% of the participants indicated that they have no information on the project whereas 40% said they were “somewhat informed” about the project. Only 11,3% claimed that they were “well informed”.
There is a draw when it comes to support for the project. 42% of the population oppose and the same share support the project, whereas 14% remains undecided. 49% of the population does not agree with the statement that the project will bring new sources of revenue whereas 35% agree. This is worth noting, as the economic argument is one of the pillars of Government’s case for the project.
In addition to civil society, this week Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu put forward 15 technical reasons why the project should not be implemented. He will need to back these with more data, but the ball is in Government’s court to convince the public why, if in fact, he is wrong.
This debate has to rid itself of politics immediately. A plebiscite of citizens living Istanbul is not the solution. The preference of Istanbul folk will not change the technical realities of the project. The Government seems resolute on undertaking the project at all cost. However, the way this debate is going, it could turn out to be an existential one. A debate, indeed, to end all debates.