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

China Announces Corruption Probe into Senior Ex-Leader

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, being probed for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid