Main opposition CHP on verge of winning in AKP-stronghold Istanbul’s Fatih district

Turkey’s main opposition CHP is on the verge of winning in AKP-stronghold Istanbul’s Fatih district as some polls suggest that the difference between them is only 2,000 voters. We followed Mahir Polat, the CHP's Fatih mayoral candidate, for one day in the district to observe his campaign, with only one week left until the local elections.

Mahir Polat, main opposition CHP's mayoral candidate for Istanbul's Fatih district, during his visit in the district.

Osman Çaklı / Gazete Duvar 

We followed Mahir Polat, the main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) mayoral candidate in Istanbul’s Fatih district, for one day to follow his election campaign. 

Polat was the head of the Cultural Heritage Department, and Deputy Secretary General of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality before his candidacy. He also established the municipality’s Heritage Department, which has restored hundreds of heritage sites in Istanbul since 2019.

The municipal electoral race in Fatih district, a Justice and Development Party (AKP)-stronghold, is expected to be neck-and-neck with the CHP and the AKP this time. 

The local elections will be held on March 31.

Fatih district includes the historical peninsula of Istanbul. AKP’s Ergün Turan won the 2019 local election in Fatih with 53.03% of the votes, followed by CHP’s Soner Özimer who remained at 36.08%

Mahir Polat, who has been campaigning in the district for 110 days, pointed to the evening of March 31st and said that everyone in Fatih should be open to surprises.

In Fatih, which includes a significant population of pious individuals, the AKP government's trade relations with Israel is the most important issue heard on the streets. Voters still see the economy as the most important problem. The accumulated problems indicate that Fatih might be on the verge of a change.

Moreover, AKP’s candidate, Mayor Ergün Turan has not been campaigning intensely other than placing posters and giant banners in the district. One of the most important reasons for this is reportedly that Turan wanted to be a candidate for Istanbul. Still, Turan is reportedly confident that he would win.

On the other hand, Mahir Polat is running a very intense campaign. With the start of his campaign, Polat seems to have increased the CHP's 23 percent of the votes in the district to 41 percent in the surveys. Although the figures change in various surveys, the difference between the two candidates might be around one percent against Mahir Polat.

Halit Özkarataşlıoğlu of the radical Islamist New Welfare Party (YRP), who has established a relationship with the voters who are angry with the AKP in the district through home visits, is considered to be among the strong possibilities to overthrow the AKP if he receives close to 10,000 votes. 

There were 264,732 eligible voters in Fatih in the 2023 general elections.

Some surveys show that Mahir Polat has reduced the difference between him and his rival Ergün Turan to 2,000 votes.

In the re-election held for the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality in June 2019, CHP’s Ekrem İmamoğlu received 49.51% of the votes in Fatih whereas his rival AKP’s Binali Yıldırım remained at 49.37%.

When Mahir Polat walked on the streets of Fatih, he attracted considerable attention. Known by children and young people, Polat also received special sympathy from public officials. People passing by asked for the cameras to be turned off and expressed their support for Mahir Polat. 

Likewise, an AKP voter similarly asked for the cameras to be turned off and had a short conversation with Polat. The topic of the conversation was Turkey's trade relations with Israel. The citizen said that they were not only a voter but also an AKP member.

“I am an AKP member but now I have changed my mind. While people are dying, they are having fun and living in luxury. Palestine is very important to me. I worked for the AKP for years but now it is over. God willing, one day we will come out of this illusion. They serve Zionism. I haven't made up my mind about the election yet, it could be you, it could be someone else, I'll see. As long as the AKP doesn’t win,” the citizen told Mahir Polat.

There is a reaction against the ruling AKP in the district in many aspects from foreign policy to the economy. The pious people who are distant from the CHP may prefer the New Welfare Party (YRP). 

Poverty is another problem and Mahir Polat seems to have focused on this issue. He listed the first-hand actions to be taken if he wins Fatih as follows: "Food support in schools, milk support, pregnant nutrition support, Malta Bazaar restoration, market support for pensioners, restoration and transformation of Bozdoğan Arch and Çukurpazar Bazaar, urban transformation, 9,000 lira support for university students –in addition to the municipality’s fund, kindergartens, city restaurants…"

We asked Mahir Polat what the latest situation is in Fatih and how they are connecting with voters who are distant to the CHP. 

Polat said, “Until 15 days ago, there was a difference of 1.5-2 points. For 20 years I have been working in the state. In the last five years, I am a person who has defended a publicist state administration in every work we have done with Mayor Ekrem. I am more civil, more connected to daily life. We have been in the field campaigning for 110 days. We have been working very hard.”

He added that they do not consider the election process only in terms of votes. “Citizens are very concerned about the current situation in Turkey. There is a society that is really disturbed by the results of the last election. You can understand from the mood of the people that the AKP government cannot give anything to the country. We are not after a career plan.”

Polat also said the politics of groups and parties in Turkey, especially the politics of "coded clusters," has carried the country to a polarizing situation. 

“We are trying to overcome the universes in the ‘other’ neighborhood of the society, marginalized by emotional crises, where people do not know each other. In this respect, this process is quite good for us. It was a period in which we overcame labels. I spent my life here in Fatih. I have always believed that human relations can overcome such misleading political hegemonies. So far, we have not seen such distinctions. Turkish society is a society with common problems and feelings in a holistic way. According to what we see in the field and what is reflected in the surveys, everyone should be ready for a surprise in Fatih. Turkish society will see that Fatih is the model for the need to abandon political cliques and strongholds,” Polat concluded.

(English version by Alperen Şen)