News / Middle East

Turkish Mayoral Candidate Seeks to Break Political Mold

FILE - Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) mayoral candidate Mustafa Sarigul (C) speaks during a protest against Turkey's ruling AK Party and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul.
FILE - Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) mayoral candidate Mustafa Sarigul (C) speaks during a protest against Turkey's ruling AK Party and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul.
Dorian Jones
Turkey is in the midst of one of it most important and bitterly contested election campaigns in decades. Nowhere is the campaign more intense than in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city and home to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  Istanbul has been the bastion of the ruling AK Party for two decades, but that rule is now under threat from a candidate for city mayor who is as controversial and mold-breaking as the prime minister himself.
 
Addressing a crowd of thousands in one of Istanbul’s poor neighborhoods, Mustafa Sarigul of the center-left Republican People’s Party, or CHP, promised social justice and an end to what he calls the divisive politics of the AK Party, which has ruled Istanbul for 20 years.
 
Taking a break from the campaign trail, 58-year-old Sarigul sweeps into his office and offers an iron handshake. Pausing for a moment, he acknowledges he shares something important with the man he sees as his chief rival -- Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
 
“There are only two people in Turkish politics who have come from nothing and risen to the top,” he said: “me and prime minister. My father was a worker, was an apartment superintendent. I am coming from a working class background and I’ve been in politics since I was 15. I worked at every level of politics,” he continued.
 
Sarigul said he has been fighting for social equality since he was a young school boy.
 
“Coming from a poor family, we poor children were always placed at the back of the classroom,” he said. “I started thinking: why I am sitting in the back row while the rich ones enjoy the front rows. I started organizing the kids in the back rows and always challenged those in the front.”
 
Sarigul said Turkish politics, like the wider society, is still dominated by class -- even, he acknowledges, within his own party.
 
Kadri Gursel of the Turkish newspaper Milliyet and the Al Monitor website said Sarigul’s candidacy is groundbreaking for the opposition CHP.
 
"Mr. Sarigul is not a typical CHP candidate; he has a capacity to reach out to almost every sector of the society in Istanbul. His campaign is not based on polarizing policies and he is not alienating people on ideological ground[s]," said Gursel.
 
Even on the thorny question of religion in society, Sarigul is breaking from his party's traditional approach. The CHP portrays itself as defender of the secular state -- and, until recently, supported restrictions on the wearing of religious head scarves by Muslim women. The Islamist-rooted AK Party has been successful in portraying its rival as anti-Muslim -- a serious handicap, analysts say, in a conservative society like Turkey. But Sarigul claims he embraces his Islamic faith.
 
“I am from a devout family,” he said. “But I am close to all religious communities living here: I visit churches, synagogues; everyone knows my stance towards religion.  For prayer, I go to small unknown mosques across the city, in order not to be seen by the media. I don’t want my faith to be apart of politics,” he said. “Faith is for reaching God, not power.”
 
Sarigul is at home in both religious and secular neighborhoods in Istanbul, and according to several polls is running neck and neck with the AK Party.
 
Former newspaper editor Yasmin Congar said Istanbul is of crucial importance to the AK Party.
 
"Oh, it would be a huge loss. It would be like losing Turkey, because Istanbul is the dynamo of the whole society: politically, economically, culturally -- everything happens in Istanbul. It would be a huge loss, it would be the beginning of the end for AKP if they lost Istanbul," said Congar.
 
A recording has surfaced, purportedly of Prime Minister Erdogan talking to a media boss, telling him to stop reporting on Sarigul. Apologizing, the media boss promises to comply. Sarigul has become largely invisible in much of the media.
 
The AK Party strongly denies that it is exerting this kind of pressure, but such accusations and concerns are increasingly being heard across the city. Nonetheless, few people are expecting Sarigul to give up his battle to become mayor of Istanbul without a fight.

You May Like

Video Video Claims to Show Shi'ite Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

While not yet independently confirmed, brutal killing already has gotten attention of Islamic State followers on social media More

After Six Years, Little Change for Niger Delta's Former Militants

Nigerians who laid down arms in exchange for government amnesty subsidies fear program may end with upcoming presidential elections More

Vietnam Pushes for More Educated Drivers to Curb Road Deaths

Transportation officials hope that making a greater effort to get drivers to learn the rules of the road will reduce fatal crashes More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boyi
X
Jeff Seldin
March 05, 2015 2:36 AM
A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More