Birol Suzer thought he had been the target of a practical joke when two men came into his grocery shop and said they wanted to pay off some of his customers’ debts.
But the offer was serious. They were taking part in campaign launched two months ago by the mayor of Ankara, the Turkish capital, aimed at easing the pain of the coronavirus crisis for the city’s poor. “We called the customers from my shop and explained the situation,” said Mr Suzer. “They could not believe it either.”
The initiative, dubbed “kindness is contagious”, helps explain why mayor Mansur Yavas has high approval ratings just over a year after wresting control of the city from the ruling party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Along with other mayors from the opposition Republican People’s party (CHP), he is seeking to show that he can rival the Turkish president’s record of service provision and welfare support — a key tactic the ruling party has used to shore up political support.
“Their efforts on the local level are challenging the core message of the ruling party — that the CHP cannot govern,” says Seren Selvin Korkmaz, executive director of the Istanbul-based think-tank IstanPol. “If CHP local government is successful, it’s a big threat for Erdogan.”
Turkey witnessed a political earthquake in the spring of last year when — after 25 years of rule by Mr Erdogan’s Justice and Development party (AKP) and its political forebears — the country’s most important cities voted for the opposition, punishing the ruling party for an economic downturn.
One year on, the opposition mayors are rivalling the Turkish president in their approval ratings. While Mr Erdogan enjoyed a bounce in the first months of the pandemic, so too did both Mr Yavas and Ekrem Imamoglu, the high-profile opposition mayor of Istanbul, according to surveys by the pollster Metropoll.
Mr Yavas, in particular, has emerged as a surprise star of the new opposition cadre. Asked by pollster Area Research to rate the response of the Ankara municipality to the coronavirus crisis, 65 per cent of respondents — including half of all AKP voters — said it was a success.
Within weeks of the coronavirus outbreak reaching Turkey, the Ankara mayor announced plans to support the cleaners, taxi drivers, hairdressers and others who had suddenly been deprived of an income. Goldman Sachs predicts the pandemic will cause the Turkish economy to contract by 5 per cent in 2020.
Mr Yavas sought online public donations and invited those in need to apply to the municipality for help. Mr Erdogan declared this campaign and similar initiatives in opposition-held cities illegal, froze the money and started his own national fundraiser.
In response, the municipality started its grocery store campaign. The initiative bypassed the government ban by inviting Ankara residents to visit shops across the city and offer to pay the tabs accrued by hard-up customers. In Mr Suzer’s case, the 2,000 lira ($300) donation from the two well-wishers erased three local families’ debts.
This only an excerpt, visit Financial Times at the link here to read the entire article
You can follow our English language YouTube videos @ REAL TURKEY: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKpFJB4GFiNkhmpVZQ_d9Rg
And content at Twitter: @AtillaEng
Facebook: Real Turkey Channel: https://www.facebook.com/realturkeychannel/