Turkey’s ‘Communist mayor; embarks on conquest of Istanbul district

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Turkey’s ‘Communist mayor; embarks on conquest of Istanbul district

Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - File photo of Mayor of Tunceli Fatih Mehmet Macouglu (centre) meeting his supporters at Kadikoy, in Istanbul during his campaign on February 11, 2024. — AFP pic

ISTANBUL, March 24 — Fatih Macoglu, the popular “Communist Mayor” of a city in eastern Turkey, is now vying for control of a vibrant and hip Istanbul district along the Asian banks of the Bosphorus.

In 2019, he was elected mayor of Tunceli, a majority Kurdish Alevi city in eastern Anatolia known for being extremely secular and left-leaning.

During his five-year term, he won plaudits for knocking down the doors of his office as a form of transparency.

This time, in the March 31 elections, he is setting his sights on the Kadikoy district of Istanbul, a bastion of the secular opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

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The charismatic, moustached 55-year-old is standing as a candidate for the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP), which has no seats in the national parliament.

In an interview with AFP during his election campaign in Kadikoy, Macoglu said his experience as mayor proved good governance was possible.

“The world is getting worse and I believe the Socialists can reverse this trend,” he said.

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“Socialists are competent to rule this country and this world.”

Supporters of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) attend an election campaign rally in Istanbul on March 22, 2024, ahead of the municipal elections of March 31. — AFP pic

Supporters of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) attend an election campaign rally in Istanbul on March 22, 2024, ahead of the municipal elections of March 31. — AFP pic

Honest approach

In 2019, Macoglu became the first Communist mayor of Tunceli, a city that was formerly known as Dersim and that has a turbulent history.

He took over a city council that had been run by the pro-Kurdish HDP party — until it was handed to a government-appointed trustee in the wake of a failed coup in 2016 that aimed to topple long-standing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Macoglu refused to use his official car and posted his council’s finances on a banner hanging on the front of his office building to show people how he spent their money.

He opened a cooperative to promote organic honey and chickpeas, whose sales funded university students from poor families, and provided free transport for students.

“I closely followed Macoglu’s successful practices. I was impressed by his honest approach to politics,” said Sevgi Celik, a 42-year-old resident of Kadikoy.

“I have faith he will do the same here in Kadikoy,” Celik added.

“I think we are not going through good times. The country in general is not in a good state. For things to get better, we need better people in power.”

Murat Karabiyik, 46, agreed the current order needed to change.

“We cannot find shelter. We cannot eat. We cannot drink. We cannot travel. This must change,” he said.

“People affiliated to political parties are usually chasing profits. This is not the case here. God willing, we will change this.”

Asked if he would stick to the same novel approach if elected mayor of Kadikoy, Macoglu said: “Of course. Our city functions because we have a programme.”

Macoglu’s bid for Kadikoy -- an arty neighbourhood with lively cafes, bars and galleries — drew rebuke from supporters of the CHP and the pro-Kurdish DEM party, which is also standing in Istanbul.

They said Macoglu should have run for a working class district of Istanbul or else stayed in Tunceli.

Macoglu told AFP he found the criticism useful but stressed he was not opposed to either of the opposition parties.

“We are Socialists. We want to explain to the public that there are better programmes. We are not against any party.”

A vendor cuts bacon during of the holy month of Ramadan near Eminonu Square in Istanbul on March 15, 2024. — AFP pic

A vendor cuts bacon during of the holy month of Ramadan near Eminonu Square in Istanbul on March 15, 2024. — AFP pic

‘We will win’

Some commentators say Macoglu could draw votes from people disappointed with the CHP, which took control of Istanbul in 2019 from Erdogan’s Islamic conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP).

“You can be assured that we will win,” he said confidently.

Macoglu has promised transparency, freedoms and accountability, including opening the council’s resources to the general public, rather than reserving the funds for individuals or monopolies.

He said he would be inclusive towards all groups -- including the LGBTQ community, which freely expresses itself in Kadikoy and is frequently attacked by Erdogan’s right-wing alliance.

Erdogan has consistently railed against LGBTQ people in Turkey.

They were a particular target of his on the campaign trail for last year’s presidential election, when he accused them of threatening traditional family values and called them “perverse”.

“We defend everyone’s right to life, including LGBTQ people,” Macoglu said.

“We say this especially because the current political climate marginalises these issues.”

Asked if the “Communist mayor” nickname bothered him, Macoglu said: “Not at all. It makes me happy.”

“Communism is a way of life. The capitalist, imperialist system has given Communists a very bad image that they don’t deserve,” he said.

“Wherever I go in the country, there are millions of people who say... ‘If this is Communism, it’s very good.’“ — AFP

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