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Former footballer enters mayoral race in quake-stricken Hatay

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Amid public outrage over the renomination of a controversial mayor in Turkey’s southern province of Hatay, the Workers Party of Turkey (TİP) nominated a former footballer as its mayoral candidate for the province.

Gökhan Zan, a 42-year-old retired national footballer and a resident of Hatay, will run as the TİP candidate for Hatay in the local elections scheduled for March 31, the party announced on X.

Zan came to public attention with his desperate calls for search and rescue teams to his city on social media immediately after two powerful earthquakes hit 11 provinces in south and southeastern Turkey on February 6, 2023.

Hatay was one of the provinces hardest-hit by the magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 earthquakes, which claimed more than 53,000 lives.

Zan posted short videos on social media in which he showed the desperation of people who were looking for their family members trapped under the rubble following the earthquakes and criticized the government for leaving the city to its fate.

Zan’s candidacy was announced at a news conference at TİP’s İstanbul office on Monday, attended by TİP lawmaker and spokesperson Sera Kadıgil, deputy chairman Barış Atay and TİP lawmaker and executive Ahmet Şık.

“We heard the voice and the anger of the people of Hatay and chose Gökhan Zan as our mayoral candidate,” Kadıgil said.

Zan’s candidacy comes amid growing public resentment and anger over the renomination of the city’s current mayor, Lütfü Savaş, from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

Savaş and his municipality are criticized for playing a major role in the massive destruction in the province by issuing permits for construction that was not in compliance with the country’s building code or by failing to conduct oversight of construction projects.

The mayor faced angry protests from Hatay residents when he attended a commemoration ceremony for the victims of the earthquakes in Hatay last week on the first anniversary of the tragedy. The protestors called on him to resign, but a defiant Savaş described them as “provocateurs” in a later statement and said he would not step down.

Following the announcement of his candidacy, Zan, who was among the protestors in Hatay last week, called on Savaş to withdraw his candidacy.

He appealed to the CHP, saying it’s unacceptable for the party to renominate a mayor who was involved in “earthquake-related crime.”

The party claims that Savaş was nominated based on the results of opinion surveys in the city that showed widespread support for him among the locals.

Zan said no public survey can change the fact that more than 50,000 people lost their lives in the earthquakes, vowing to do his best for the reconstruction of Hatay if elected.

The former footballer joined the nationalist İYİ (Good) Party in March 2023. He was nominated as a parliamentary candidate in the general election in May but was unable to win a seat. Zan parted ways with İYİ in December, saying he had entered politics to serve Hatay but found it impossible under the umbrella of the İYİ Party.

More than 13,800 buildings collapsed in Hatay, while at least 22,000 people were killed there in the earthquakes. The Antakya, Defne and Samandağ districts were nearly wiped off the map.

Hatay’s population was around 1.6 million before the earthquakes. There is no information about its current population, but some 187,000 live in more than 200 container settlements established in the province after the tragedy.

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