Although his surname means “slow” in Turkish, opposition candidate Mansur Yavas has done a good job of running down his ruling party rival in the race to become Ankara’s next mayor.
According to most opinion polls as Turkey heads for local elections on Sunday, Yavas, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) choice to run the capital, is ahead in the race against Justice and Development Party (AK Party) nominee Mehmet Ozhaseki.
A poll conducted by Area Research at the weekend shows Yavas five points ahead of his competitor. Other surveys predict a wider margin despite heavy media support for the AK Party candidate and widely-scorned allegations of misconduct relating to Yavas’s work as a lawyer a decade ago.
Sitting at the head of a conference room table in his campaign headquarters in Ankara, Yavas seems unbowed by the “disgusting” attacks on his reputation.
“The difference in votes between me and their candidate is quite big and they could not accept this,” the 63-year-old said while sipping a glass of tea. “They made these allegations but in the end, they will be sorry because they have no proof.”
The allegations that Yavas forged a promissory note in 2009 surfaced two weeks ago and were soon repeated by ministers and pro-government media. It later emerged that his accuser had actually been convicted and sentenced to six years imprisonment for forging the note, blackmail and invading Yavas’ privacy. The businessman, Necmettin Kesgin, also faces an ongoing child pornography case.
While a prosecutor has laid charges against Yavas, he is confident that the courts have no real interest in prosecuting him despite the claims, as well as allegations of tax evasion, being reiterated by AK Party figures including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“They made accusations because they fear losing the election,” he said, adding that he had already opened “15 or 20” legal cases against those who had repeated the allegations. “I am a man of justice and I can’t be silent on this.”
Many would say Yavas, who previously served as the mayor of Beypazari, a town to the west of Ankara, should be used to the rough and tumble of the capital’s politics.
It will be his third attempt to seize the Ankara mayoralty, having first run as a candidate for the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) – now in alliance with the AK Party – in 2009 and then for the CHP five years ago.
It was the 2014 election when Yavas stood against the long-standing AK Party incumbent, Melih Gokcek, that went down as one of the most infamous nights in Turkish politics.
During the count, Yavas was closing the gap on Gokcek, who had been Ankara’s mayor since 1994, until disruptions halted proceedings for several hours. When the count resumed, Gokcek had widened his lead, leading to a legal dispute over the result.
However, buoyed by positive polls, Yavas clearly believes his time has come. “There is a big demand for change among the people,” he told Al Jazeera.
“A large number of people told me they have been AKP [AK Party] voters in the past but they are not going to vote for them in this election. The demand for change is also related to the fact that the residents of Ankara don’t like the AKP candidate and they know me well.
“I was a candidate in earlier elections and people think that in the last election I suffered – I won the election but I was not treated appropriately.”
Another factor in the favour of opposition is Turkey’s worsening economic situation. Inflation is running at around 20 percent while one in 10 is unemployed. A government scheme to sell cheaper vegetables seems to have done little to ease people’s financial worries.
‘Strategy will backfire’
Yavas also believes the accusations he has faced during the campaign will turn voters in his favour. “It only had the opposite effect to what they expected,” he said. “Many AKP voters said they would vote for me in protest against these unfortunate allegations. They will see that this strategy will backfire and they will learn not to do it again.”
Ankara is one of the key cities in Sunday’s vote, with many predicting it will fall to the CHP, which has formed a coalition with the nationalist Iyi Party to challenge the AK Party and its MHP allies across the country.
There is also a possibility that Istanbul – the greatest prize in local polls and the city where Erdogan launched his mainstream political career in 1994 – could slip from the AK Party’s grasp.
After the local polls, Turkey is not due to hold further elections until 2023 but some commentators have suggested the ruling party could call an early general election if it does badly on Sunday.
“If they lose on a local level it will take away their main argument about their success in general,” Yavas said. “For the next four-and-a-half years there will be no elections in Turkey. If they lose Ankara, the question is what will happen in the next four-and-a-half years? If they lose Ankara and other major cities, will they hold early general elections?”
While pessimistic about the state of democracy in Turkey, Yavas says he hopes to work hand-in-hand with the government. “I will work from the very bottom of the system to the top, from the mukhtar [village head] to the president, in harmony with them,” he said.
As for his vision for Ankara, long regarded as the dowdier of Turkey’s two largest cities, Yavas hopes to address its transport issues and ensure drinkable water for its five million residents.
“We want to bring the identity of Ankara as Turkey’s capital to the front, organise international festivals and make our city the capital of cultural and arts activities,” he added.