Pinar Tremblay looks at why Recep Erdoğan is pumping up the AK party membership in Istanbul.“Since the July 15 coup attempt, still-devout Muslims are suffering in jails. The Gulen movement cannot still be the sole culprit," Kar said.
Also, Istanbul is the financial capital of Turkey. Almost all major businesses, both domestic and foreign, have their headquarters in the city. Revenues from tourism and hospitality-related industries have declined. Plus, Erdogan’s urban planning disasters are costing residents money.
Istanbul’s environmental degradation — to open the way for major projects such as the controversial third bridge — is a growing burden on the city's budget. For example, the fiasco of poor planning is not limited to cutting corners to avoid audits to construct the bridge, but also the failure to calculate revenues. The toll for the bridge is so high that drivers are seeking alternative travel methods. Truck and bus drivers are fined for using other bridges, but many say it's significantly cheaper to pay the fines than the tolls.
Another major concern is the city’s lack of preparedness for natural disasters. Earthquakes remain the biggest fear, as even the locations designated to assemble survivors after a quake have been decimated in the past decade to enable lucrative businesses to emerge. The city’s infrastructure failed utterly during a 20-minute July hail storm accompanied by heavy rains and high winds that caused flooding and other damage estimated at as much as 1.2 billion Turkish liras (about $380 million). Istanbul residents were once more reminded that losing green areas of the city has immediate and dangerous consequences on their daily lives.
And that probably is the most crucial message opposition parties need to hear. A senior professor of urban planning and economics who asked to remain anonymous told Al-Monitor, “Istanbul’s city planning disasters can no longer be hidden behind the facade of glamorous promotional displays. The city is overcrowded, pollution and cement have replaced the local fauna and flora, and basic services are lacking. Residents suffer these difficulties on a daily basis."
In addition, the professor continued, "Youth unemployment and skyrocketing credit card debt due to reckless lending encouraged by the government is felt by a majority of Istanbul residents. For 2019, there will be more young voters who are almost immune to pro-AKP media, which should be the real nightmare for Erdogan.”
There are expected to be 2 million first-time voters in the 2019 elections.
Erdogan has failed to keep his promises to Istanbul’s most desperate. For example, when Erdogan was campaigning in 1993 to become Istanbul's mayor, he went to brothels, promising to save the "fallen women" from their miserable lives. He told reporters he would like to transform the brothel district into an electric and electronic hub. The brothels are decimated in the area today, but the district never took off as the Silicon Valley of Turkey. Rather, we see street prostitution, and that has expanded into other areas. Several of Erdogan’s promises on the local level have proven rather counterproductive, yet these people have no plausible alternative to Erdogan.
In the midst of all the difficulty lies an opportunity for the opposition. Erdogan’s passion and fear of losing Istanbul should be telling for the opposition groups, which have a chance to claim the powerful position of mayor. If the opposition can deliver some relief to Istanbul, prove itself effective in governance and rally first-time voters to the polls in March 2019, it could have a chance to directly challenge Erdogan for the presidency in November 2019. Indeed, this might be the only possible peaceful method to keep Turkey from quickly slithering into tyranny.
Pinar Tremblay is a columnist for Turkish news outlet T24.