Cablegate: Istanbul Municipal Elections for Dummies

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (u) Summary: The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is
poised for landslide victories in most of the March 28
Istanbul municipal elections. AKP candidate Kadir Topbas
looks to be a shoo-in for the top prize -- Istanbul Mayor --
and AKP candidates are also expected to take the lion's share
of the 32 district mayorships, city council seats, and other
assorted local positions. The Republican People's Party
(CHP) will probably hold the wealthier districts of Sisli and
Kadikoy, and may pick up similarly affluent Besiktas and
Bakirkoy at the expense of the faltering Motherland Party
(ANAP). One or two other poorer districts where the
conservative vote is hotly contested by AKP and Saadet Party
may fall by default into the hands of CHP or another party.
Rather than belabor the obvious AKP landslide, we offer
instead a "how to"-guide for those interested in the nuts and
bolts of the election process in Istanbul. End Summary.

2. (u) Istanbul's streets are festooned with colorful
banners, its buildings plastered with large candidate photos,
the air filled by the shrill noise of loudspeakers. The
holiday-like atmosphere is for the upcoming March 28 local
elections. Here is our "Istanbul Municipal Elections For
Dummies" -- a "how-to"-guide that will help you and your
political party gain a local foothold in the Istanbul
municipality (or help explain why your rivals succeeded where
you failed).

Organization, Organization, Organization
3. (u) The cardinal rule and sine qua non for success in
municipal elections in Istanbul is to build a strong
"teskilat," or party organization. The standard structure
consists of an executive committee with parallel women's and
youth branches. Each committee (and branch committee) has
members assigned to head sub-committees for each of the key
party functions, including election affairs, media, public
relations, financial issues, local government, organizational
affairs, economic issues, social issues, research, and
foreign affairs. This entire structure is duplicated at the
district level in each of the 32 local districts and again at
the "mahalle" or neighborhood level. Finally, each
neighborhood committee assigns a certain number of party
volunteers to each specific polling station in their area.

4. (u) The numbers add up quickly. The AKP Kucukcekmece
district organization, for example, includes 90 members on
the executive, women's, and youth committees. There are
another 30 members on each of the 26 neighborhood executive,
women's, and youth committees (actually 28 neighborhoods,
since they have divided the two largest into two). AKP has
also assigned 2 party members to work each of the polling
stations. Kucukcekmece AKP Chairman Mevlut Uysal told us
that he has over 4,000 AKP members working as volunteers in
the district party organization. We have seen similar
numbers and structures for the major political parties in
each district and neighborhood we have visited. Based on our
observations and conversations with AKP officials, we
estimate that there are between 120,000 and 150,000 AKP
members working as volunteers in Istanbul. (Note: Smaller
political parties are unable to maintain such organizations.
Some cannot even identify candidates for each district, much
less staff and volunteers in each neighborhood and polling

Financing and Fund Raising
5. (u) A strong party organization is also one of the keys to
successful fund raising. Both our AKP and CHP contacts in
major districts have told us that their estimated campaign
expenses are from USD 200,000 to 250,000 in cash, in addition
to in-kind contributions from party members and supporters
(i.e., vehicles, office space, volunteers). Much of this
money comes from party members. Dues are minimal (about USD
4 annually for AKP), but ambitious party members are expected
to make contributions in other ways. One party member told
us, for example, that he was told to "sell" 5 tickets to a
fund raising dinner for about USD 40 each (he bought them
himself). Candidate applications are another major source of
funding. Applications for district mayor cost around USD
4,000. With as many as a dozen or more applications in some
of their safer districts, AKP in particular was able to rely
on these fees as a significant source of funding. Fund
raising dinners and receptions are an additional source of
financing. Cash contributions to political parties are
limited by Turkish law to USD 40, but we suspect that most
parties find ways around this regulation.

(National) Success Breeds (Local) Success
6. (u) Although the importance of individual candidates is a
mantra that is frequently used to distinguish municipal
elections from national elections, party affiliation remains
a major factor in local electoral contests. Turkey's
government is highly-centralized with regard to most public
administration functions (note: the parliament is currently
discussing an AKP proposal to decentralize public
administration). There is a widespread perception that having
municipal officials from the parties in power nationally will
lead to more funding and attention from Ankara. Such
candidates often try to use this perception to their
advantage. The AKP candidate for Kadikoy district mayor and
his campaign manager freely admitted as much to poloff (note:
the incumbent Kadikoy mayor is from CHP). Countless voters
have also told us that this is a major (and sometimes
determining) factor in their decisions.
Touch All of Your Bases
7. (u) As is the case in any democratic country, there are
certain individuals and organizations in Istanbul that
exercise influence in the political process. Successful
politicians are careful to touch all of their bases to
maximize their chances of appealing to the widest possible
electorate. In Istanbul these include: news and media
organizations, labor and teachers' unions, assorted business
associations, clubs (including Lion's and Rotary chapters)
and, perhaps most interestingly, the myriad of "hemsehir," or
fellow townsmen associations. Politicians are expected to
"call on" these organizations to introduce themselves,
explain their plans, and ask for support.

8. (u) The vast majority of Istanbul's population arrived in
the last 30 years. Most Istanbul residents continue to
identify themselves with their hometowns, and even more
narrowly with their home villages or districts. Istanbul is
home to over a million people from the Anatolian town of
Sivas alone, with large numbers from the Black Sea, the
Southeast, and rural Anatolia. Istanbul has thousands of
"fellow townsmen" cultural associations organized along these
lines. These associations serve primarily as community
centers that host cultural activities and provide limited
assistance to newly-arrived immigrants and to their home
towns. From a political perspective, however, their
importance goes beyond their organizational capacity. The
bonds of kinship between fellow townsmen can often be a
determining factor in voting patterns and behavior. Politics
in the Zeytinburnu district of Istanbul, for example, is
dominated by its large concentration of residents from
Giresun. All of the successful parties take these
considerations into account when choosing their candidates
for municipal elections.

Hit the Street
9. (u) The active portion of the campaign period for Istanbul
municipal elections is fairly short. Most of the political
parties postponed their official announcement of candidates
until the legal deadline one month before the elections.
Although some campaigning began earlier, most of the
advertising and activities has been confined to the last few
weeks. The emphasis seems to be on roving campaign vehicles
(replete with larger-than life photos of the candidates and
sub-standard loud-speaker systems), outdoor billboard
advertisements and banners, and newspaper advertisements and
supplements. Advertising on television and radio is banned.
Campaign volunteers will often insert newspaper supplements
about their candidates and hand out free copies of the
newspapers. Successful candidates spend much of their time
touching the bases mentioned above and meeting with
shopkeepers and visiting constituents in their districts.

10. (u) Despite the size of the Istanbul metropolitan area,
local politics retains a town, even village-style flavor.
The reputation of local candidates depends heavily on their
family name, who they know, and where they are from. AKP's
likely success in the March 28 elections here in Istanbul
stems in large part from its strong organizational base and
its proximity and responsiveness to local voters. As the
first single-party government in decades, however, these
elections are also viewed as a referendum on AKP's
performance since November 2002. We expect Istanbul voters
to give AKP a ringing endorsement with about 50 percent of
the total vote, the Istanbul mayorship, 23 or 24 of the 32
district mayorships, and 75 percent or more of the city
council seats.

© Scoop Media

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