AK Party picks former Minister Kurum as candidate for Istanbul election

Mon, 8 Jan 2024 7:47 GMT
Murat Kurum, former minister of environment and urban planning, was chosen as the ruling AK Party's candidate for the Istanbul mayor's seat on Sunday by Turkish President Erdoğan.
AK Party picks former Minister Kurum as candidate for Istanbul election

Murat Kurum, former minister of environment and urban planning, was chosen as the ruling AK Party's candidate for the Istanbul mayor's seat on Sunday by President Erdoğan, who seeks his party's comeback to Türkiye's most populated city in March's municipal vote.

President and ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Chairperson Recep Tayyip Erdoğan named former Minister of Environment and Urban Planning Murat Kurum as a candidate for Istanbul for upcoming municipal elections. The announcement was made at an event in Istanbul on Sunday for the declaration of several candidates for Turkish provinces.

Forty-seven-year-old Kurum served as the minister of environment and urban planning (later changed to the Ministry of Environment, Urban Planning and Climate Change) from 2018 until May 2023, when he was elected to Parliament as a lawmaker for Istanbul.

His name figured prominently since then as rumors circulated that he topped the list of potential candidates for the city’s top seat.

His background as an urban planner and his professional training fit with Erdoğan's claims that Istanbul has become run down and dysfunctional under opposition control.

An Ankara native, Kurum is a civil engineer by training and the son of a father who worked in the same ministry he led for years. Specializing in urban transformation at the university, Kurum’s tenure, if he wins, will come when the government announces a massive overhaul of the city’s building stock to make it sturdier against disasters.

He is credited with spearheading the government’s efforts to transform cities with better buildings and rebuilding in areas already affected by earthquakes, such as 10 provinces devastated by the February earthquakes last year.

The mayor's office of Istanbul is a coveted seat for all parties as the most populated city that also determines the outcome of general elections in most votes. On Friday, incumbent Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu was introduced as the candidate of his Republican People's Party (CHP) for upcoming elections. He will be the strongest contender for Kurum. Imamoğlu's unprecedented win in the 2019 elections ended the AK Party's long streak in the municipality.

Though Erdoğan also announced the candidates for other big cities except Ankara at Sunday's event at Haliç Congress Center (where Imamoğlu also announced his candidacy), the spotlight was on Kurum. The president alphabetically listed the candidates but saved the name of the Istanbul candidate for the last.

The president, who was born and raised in a working-class neighborhood of Istanbul, attaches importance to the city, which propelled his political career. Erdoğan rose to prominence after he was elected Istanbul mayor in 1994. His successful tenure paved the way for his success in general elections more than two decades ago.

Erdoğan told a cheering crowd that included Cabinet ministers that they would work to save Istanbul from "five years of interregnum."

"These past five years showed us that you cannot serve Istanbul part-time," Erdoğan said, in a pointed reference to Imamoğlu's tenure marked with controversial leaves from the office at the times of major snowstorms and floods.

"Istanbul is a city you cannot neglect. You always have to find solutions to its issues. You have to be in love with this city to serve it, you have to devote yourself to the people of Istanbul. Istanbul does not have another five years to lose," he said.

The president stated that candidates were picked through comprehensive discussions between the party's members and consultations. He noted that their record of running municipalities was not new and they had a glorious past of running the cities.

"Since 1994, we brought a new philosophy of running municipalities and proved our mettle to our nation. We launched a new era with this spirit of 1994. Our accomplishments in local administrations helped us to seek support for administering the country. We took action to turn the fortunes of our country, just like we did in our cities," he said.

Erdoğan reiterated that Istanbul had been synonymous with "garbage, open pits and mud" before he and other mayors took office. "We cleaned it up," he added.

Erdoğan hit out at the opposition and criticized that their mismanagement of the municipalities forced the government to take action so that "citizens living in opposition-run cities will not be victims." He said voters in opposition-run cities "do not have to be captives of the opposition-run municipalities lacking in services."

The AK Party lost control of Istanbul and Ankara for the first time in 25 years, as well as some five megacities, to the CHP in the last local elections of 2019.

A controversial rerun handed Istanbul to Imamoğlu, who now faces the risk of a political ban in an ongoing lawsuit. With his trial postponed to April 2024, the popular mayor is looking to run for a second term after leading a coup to replace CHP Chair Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu with his favored man Özgür Özel last year.

Under Imamoğlu, worldwide favorite Istanbul has fallen into disrepair and begun exhausting its residents.

The AK Party is choosing its mayoral candidates through extensive voter satisfaction surveys and public opinion polls, the president said, adding that discussions were underway with People’s Alliance partner, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), to cooperate in major cities.

Having refreshed cadres, replacing 52 provincial chairs and over 400 district chairs after last May's general elections, the AK Party has zeroed in on the upcoming vote. It ran surveys in big cities run by opposition parties to determine major problems citizens suffered. In Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, the most prominent issues were high living costs, transportation, irregular migration and infrastructure problems. Erdoğan has instructed his party to seek candidates with a good public image, “not candidates simply favored (by political lobbies).”

In Istanbul, the AK Party’s campaign theme will be urban transformation, an ambitious nationwide project to replace crumbling old buildings with new ones. Istanbul is among the cities under imminent risk of earthquakes and Türkiye stepped up efforts to speed up the transformation project after the Feb. 6 quakes.

Voters in opposition-run municipalities mostly complain about the lack of municipal services, such as problems in water utility that lead to frequent water outages and traffic issues stemming from troubles in road construction and improvement of existing roads.

March 2024 is poised to be a critical test for the opposition parties, which were united under a coalition in 2019 that only fell apart after last May’s defeat.

Despite new management, the CHP faces dwindling odds as its allies, such as the nationalist Good Party (IP), seek to field their own candidates.

Old names retained

Erdoğan also named candidates for 10 other metropolitan cities and 15 provinces. Further nominations are expected in the coming weeks, including a candidate for the capital Ankara, who will be announced on Jan.15.

Most candidates were incumbent AK Party mayors. In other cities run by the opposition, the party either named candidates from district municipalities of big cities or lawmakers. In the western city of Aydın, lawmaker Mustafa Savaş was nominated. In Çanakkale, former AK Party lawmaker Jülide Iskenderoğlu was nominated.

She was the second female candidate after Belgin Iba, who was declared a candidate for the CHP stronghold border province of Edirne. In the central city of Eskişehir, run by veteran CHP Mayor Yılmaz Büyükerşen for a long time, the AK Party nominated Nebi Hatipoğlu, who recently joined the AK Party from the opposition Good Party (IP). In Muğla, where Türkiye’s popular tourism destinations are located, Aydın Ayaydın, a prominent politician and former lawmaker from CHP, was nominated for the mayor’s seat.


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