Local election in Muğla’s Datça: Will CHP lose its 25-year-old rule in its stronghold?

Although the main opposition CHP is the favorite to win in its stronghold Muğla’s Datça district in the upcoming local election, it has two main rivals: the ruling People's Alliance’s candidate Feyzullah Gülada, and independent candidate Mesut Yar.

Ümit Buget / Gazete Duvar

When you open the ballot boxes in the Aegean coastal towns in Turkey, the least surprising thing is a Republican People’s Party (CHP) victory. When you go out on the streets and walk around a bit, you will encounter the complaints of those who vote for the CHP about the same party. The relationship between CHP and its voters in the Aegean coastal areas is usually based on love and hate relationship…

Which candidate will prevail in this election in Muğla’s Datça district? Will it be the CHP, the ruling People's Alliance candidate Feyzullah Gülada, or the independent candidate Mesut Yar? We tried to take a closer look at the 'Knidos elections' by visiting the district.

 Mesut Yar's election office

Sebiha Arslan, Editor-in-Chief of Datça News Newspaper, made the following comments for the region:

"For years, the CHP has always had a high voting rate here. But lately, the fact that there is a thought that the CHP has not been working hard enough, the lack of infrastructure, electricity and water cuts are the aspects that are negative for the CHP. The candidate of the People's Alliance is a strong candidate here. Feyzullah Gülada competed in 2019 and continued his campaign after that. He is from Datça. He works as a physician in Muğla, but I can say that he has never neglected Datça. Add to this the anger of CHP voters about the issues I mentioned, and there is a slight shift of votes to Gülada."

Sebiha Arslan

Feyzullah Gülada, from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), came second in the March 31, 2019 elections with 40 percent of the votes. He is a dentist, he has also done the teeth of many Datça residents since the 2019 elections. As the saying goes, he wants to win the election this time by “getting in the mouth and out of the heart” of the voters. The current CHP Mayor Abdullah Gürsel Uçar, who did not run for re-election, won the 2019 election with 55 percent.

As much as the 2019 election was the election of alliances, the 2024 election is the election of “singularities.” In Datça, a total of 14 candidates, two of them independent, will compete for the mayorship. CHP's candidate for the new term is Aytaç Kurt, who has eight years of CHP district chairship experience.

The Peoples’ Equality and Democracy (DEM) Party, which did not field a candidate in the last election and has a vote potential of around 6-7 percent in the region, is also in the race with Fatma Çetinkaya. And of course, there is Mesut Yar, who was not named as the CHP’s candidate and decided to continue on his path as an independent. Another independent candidate is 83-year-old ship captain İbrahim Günay Demir.

So is it possible for the 15-point gap in favor of the CHP in the last elections to be closed? Sebiha Arslan said, "I am surrounded by dozens of people who say, 'I have voted for CHP for years, but they are not working anymore, OK, we don't like AK Party or MHP, but the candidate is strong and we will vote for Feyzullah'."

Feyzullah Gülada

"On the other hand, independent candidate Mesut Yar is working very seriously. He is using his media power and conducting fieldwork day and night. There is a serious increase in his vote rate at the moment. Those who are angry with the CHP and don't want to vote for a right-wing party prefer Mesut Yar as a reaction vote," Arslan said.

"CHP supporters are angry, yes, but if on the last day they say, 'OK, we are not giving up on our party,' then that's another scenario, but if that doesn't happen, the chances of Feyzullah Gülada becoming the mayor are very high. If Gülada doesn't win, the CHP will win by a very small margin. 1-2 at most 3 points difference," she concluded.  

Even those who will not for Feyzullah Gülada talk about a “devil's feather” for him. But can this “devil's feather” help Gülada win in Datça?

The two biggest concerns about Gülada are the areas to be zoned for development and the interference in the lifestyle. No matter how much Gülada says in his speeches that he will not sign anything that will be to the detriment of Datça, it is thought that he may not be able to resist the wishes of the central government.

This is a unique place where men and women sit together in coffeehouses, where no one gets into fist fights, and where people who go to Friday prayer during the day can have a drink in the evening.

There is concern that this lifestyle will be lost in a possible AKP-MHP rule.

CHP election office

Yakup Akkaya, a trade unionist who has also served as deputy chair of the CHP and as a lawmaker from Istanbul, is one of those concerned.

"Mesut Yar's candidacy is a move to make the CHP lose as a result of anger. Today, the presidential system has made the government's actions no longer legally auditable. The state of the judiciary is obvious. I am not only talking about Datça, but approximately 250 municipalities of the CHP also function as checks and balances on a country where the law has disappeared. In this context, I read Mesut Yar's independent candidacy as a policy to make the Republican People's Party lose," Akkaya said.

Yakup Akkaya

"Let's look at the past eight years. Despite the efforts of the Environment and Urbanization Ministry to open Datça to plunder and land development, there are legal struggles carried out by the Datça CHP district organization and the municipality. In most of these, they received a stay of execution ruling from the courts. If there was no CHP-run municipality here, will the municipality intervene when the Environment Ministry imposes a controversial practice? Datça is a place that is completely within the environmental protection practice. Will the People's Alliance candidate be able to stand against his ministry? Our most important project here is to protect Datça. We have worked with very valuable professors in union trainings,” he added.

In Datça, where about 26,000 people officially live, 21,197 citizens are eligible to vote. Candidates are running after 7,000 votes that have a high potential to make them the first. One of those names is Mesut Yar.

We met former CHP Party Assembly member Nazmiye Halvaşi at an event at the Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Association, where actor Mehmet Esen was performing his one-man show. Halvaşi is now part of Mesut Yar's close working team. 

She disagreed with the suggestion that Yar is “the candidate who will make the CHP lose.”  

"The favoritism towards us is at a high level both in the center and in the villages. Our phones have turned into a 'Mesut Yar hotline.’ People with problems, complaints, and requests call us. There is a bottom wave. We will come first in the elections," she said.

Nazmiye Halvaşi

If what she says comes true, it will be a surprise in Datça. But no matter who wins in Datça, it is certain that it will be a colorful and exciting election. Wherever you live in, keep an eye on Datça on election night.

(English version by Alperen Şen)