ANTALYA -The Mediterranean holiday town of Antalya is coming alive even though summer hasn’t arrived yet. Election fervor grips the city as local elections draw near, with the Republican People’s Party seeking to wrestle back control of what it considers one of its strongholds from the Justice and Development Party whose candidate and incumbent mayor, Menderes Türel, is confident of retaining his seat in office and defeating former rector, Mustafa Akaydın, at the polls.
Preparations for the tourist season have taken a back seat to election fervor in the Mediterranean holiday city of Antalya, where loud music blaring from cruising election convoys attracts even the attention of foreign visitors.
As the garbage collector assigned by the municipality continued his work, seemingly oblivious to the noisy election campaign convoy of a political party, a craftsman waved at it from in front of his shop, calling out, "Come on, hoca, you are the only one who can do it."
A middle-aged man holding a cigarette in his hand did not seem to agree, saying to a friend in an excited tone, "Menderes has done enough. What else can the hoca do?"
The main contestants in Antalya’s mayoral race are incumbent Mayor Menderes Türel from the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and his "hoca," or teacher, challenger, Mustafa Akaydın, the candidate of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP.
The campaigners have sounded a common theme, focusing on the economic crisis and unemployment instead of promising investment by local administrations. Each candidate’s promises to end the economic crisis and find new alternatives for rising unemployment have made this campaign resemble one for a general, rather than local, election and reveal the devastating effects of the economic crisis.
Selim, who works in the tourism sector, lent support to this idea. "If the number of tourists decreases, many businesses will close," he said. "I really fear becoming unemployed." As Antalya heads for its local elections in this depressing atmosphere, Turkey’s self-styled capital of tourism is set to choose what will effectively be its prime minister.
With the effects of the economic crisis being felt in the streets, people working in the tourism industry are looking to local candidates for a solution, and every candidate is making serious promises with regard to developing tourism. "This election is rather important for us, the tourism people, as some 45 percent of Turkish tourism is governed from here," said Sururi Çorabatır, chairman of the Mediterranean Hotels Union. "We expect the candidates who have a good team and effective projects to win the election."
Akaydın, a former rector of Akdeniz University, is running under the slogan, "If there is one who can do it, it is the Hoca," which he chose to remind people of the projects he successfully accomplished during his term at the university. Akaydın has pinned his hopes on this, and on the fact that CHP leader Deniz Baykal is from Antalya, which has long been a party stronghold. Strikingly, Akaydın has developed projects dealing with tourism instead of city infrastructure and superstructure.
"I will make Antalya the city of universities," Akaydın said, describing his four main projects to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review as he rode in his election van. "Antalya will become the capital of medical tourism. I will also develop tourism for the elderly. Moreover, my solar-energy project will employ some 150,000 people." As he asks for votes with these projects, Akaydın has not forgotten to emphasize secularism too. Elected as the university rector with 45 percent of the vote, he is confident that he will also win this election with a similar percentage.
Kemal Çelik, the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, candidate, has also proposed some interesting projects. He told the Daily News he would build an undersea tunnel in the shape of an aquarium at Sıçan Island, build an "Eiffel Tower of Antalya" and build an antique theater at Masa Mountain. Çelik, who is from the Serik district, expects this to be his base of support for victory, but word on the street does not seem promising. "Çelik is one of us," said Erol Alıcı, a taxi driver. "But to tell the truth, I do not think he has much chance in the coming election."
Kubilay Döşeyen, a civil-society volunteer and heart surgeon, criticized the way the candidates seem to be running to govern Turkey, not just Antalya. "The mayors do not create job opportunities, they only offer local services, such as building roads and sewage systems and making transportation projects," Döşeyen said. "Unfortunately, the candidates make promises they will not be able to keep."
Türel, the incumbent mayor, spoke to the Daily News while preparing for an election rally headlined by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The former manager of İleri, a local family-run newspaper, Türel seemed confident in his victory. Asked, "What could be the headline of the newspaper on March 30?" Türel replied, "Menderes Türel has won the election. Antalya has won."
"I will make Antalya a brand-name city," Türel said. "People will say ’goodbye’ to Paris, to London, and ’hello’ to Antalya. Our ultimate aim is not to liken Antalya to these cities, but to enable it to exceed them of its won accord."
Rival Akaydın criticized Türel’s performance as mayor, saying, "The Antalya Municipality has debt to the tune of 400 million Turkish Liras. The infrastructure investments and tramway project are full of technical mistakes."
Antalya CHP deputy Hüsnü Çöllü said: "The AKP is the party of corruption. Even if Menderes does not take part in these practices personally, he has to exist in this system."
In response to these criticisms, Türel said: "It would be illogical not to use a loan, which extends to 16 years. It was like a donation. I do not agree with the criticism regarding the debt of the municipality." Moreover, Türel said he does not ignore the support he receives from the central administration.
The Prime Minister’s support of Türel and his practices are well known and were apparent at Erdoğan’s election rally in Antalya as well. Türel’s supporters paid close attention to Erdoğan, who did not miss a chance to criticize his rival Baykal.
"We have turned Antalya into a global city," Erdoğan said. "The name of Antalya is mentioned along with such cities as Paris, London and Dubai today. Neither has Türel put us to shame, nor have we put Antalya to shame so far. These people have kept walking at a pedestrian pace. When you, Baykal, were selected as deputy and became a minister, what did you do for Antalya?" Clearly, the AKP senses victory here.
Most of the attendees of the AKP rally seemed to be middle-income residents from the suburban areas that are sometimes referred to as "the second Antalya." Residents from the city’s higher-income groups tend to be loyal to the CHP.