Main opposition CHP does not renominate İzmir mayor for local election, sparking controversy

Turkish main opposition CHP has fielded Cemil Tugay as İzmir mayoral candidate, replacing Mayor Tunç Soyer. Karşıyaka district Mayor Cemil Tugay’s reportedly past relations with a pro-Erdoğan business has sparked a controversy within the party.

CHP leader Özgür Özel (L) and party's new İzmir mayoral candidate and Karşıyaka District Mayor Cemil Tugay (R)

Duvar English

Turkish main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) on Jan. 29 decided to not renominate İzmir Mayor Tunç Soyer for candidacy for the upcoming local elections. Instead, the party named Cemil Tugay, Karşıyaka district mayor, as its İzmir mayoral candidate for the election to be held on March 31, 2024. 

The party executives said Tugay was ahead of other candidates in surveys conducted in the province. 

The party also named 30 district mayoral candidates in İzmir, nine of them being women, and 11 of them being under 40. The party replaced all the mayors of its 22 existing district municipalities in İzmir except three.

İzmir Mayor Tunç Soyer said he was notified of the party’s decision to nominate someone else five minutes before the party meeting, which he “considers political impoliteness to say the least.”

“First of all, the work carried out by the party management behind closed doors, the number, method and results of the satisfaction surveys that are said to have been conducted in the province are procedurally and essentially unfair. There is also no indication that the voice of the party organization was listened to and the preferences of the grassroots and civil society organizations were taken into account. Despite the request, no primary election was held and the process was not shared transparently with the people of İzmir,” Soyer said.

Soyer, who has been the İzmir Metropolitan Municipality Mayor since 2019, was the Seferihisar district mayor between 2009 and 2019.

Cemil Tugay has been Karşıyaka district mayor since 2019.

After his nomination, former CHP Deputy Chair Eren Erdem revealed Cemil Tugay's reportedly relation with business person Mehmet Cengiz, one of the cronies of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Erdem said Tugay sold land to Cengiz for housing construction without any tender.

“Tunç Soyer, who vetoed Cemil Tugay's plans for benefiting the gang of five (Erdoğan’s cronies), was purged just because he supported Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. He was replaced by Cemil Tugay, who (wanted a change within the party to replace Kılıçdaroğlu) because he knew that he would not be made a candidate again due to his activities of benefiting the gang of five,” Erdem claimed.

Former CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu on Nov. 5 lost the party congress to the “revisionist” candidate Özgür Özel.

Tugay told journalist İsmail Saymaz that he sold the land when he was a “novice.”

“When I assumed office, the municipality needed resources. I had to pay off debts. The employees at that time told me that there was such a land, they said, 'If we sell this, we can generate income',” Tugay said.

Tugay also denied relations with pro-government businesses, and told ANKA News Agency that the sale decision was made before his term. He also said he informed Kılıçdaroğlu about the transaction at the time.

“This is a share sale. It is not a sale made because Cengiz İnşaat bought it, it is a transfer that would have to be made even if the other shareholder was another company, and similar transactions are carried out almost every day in all municipalities. Cengiz İnşaat collected its 25 acres of shares from TOKİ, not from our municipality,” he added.