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CHP decides to keep controversial mayor of quake-hit city in mayoral race

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Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has decided to keep a controversial mayor who is blamed for the devastation caused by 2023 earthquakes in the southern province of Hatay as its mayoral candidate for the local elections in March, according to a party statement.

The CHP ended weeks-long negotiations on whether to withdraw the candidacy of Hatay Mayor Lütfü Savaş, announcing in a written statement on Tuesday that it had decided to move forward with his candidacy for the March 31 local elections.

The party’s statement was released following a meeting of CHP leader Özgür Özel, party officials and Savaş. Savaş left party headquarters without making any statement to the press.

Özel, who spoke at a party meeting on Tuesday, said they had decided to continue with Savaş based on the results of opinion surveys conducted in the province and lengthy consultations with party officials. He said the people of Hatay will lose if the province is won by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate.

Savaş also spoke on Tuesday about the CHP decision not to withdraw his candidacy, saying that if he had not been nominated, the AKP would garner 60 to 65 percent of the vote in Hatay.

Hatay was one of more than a dozen cities in Turkey’s south and southeast that were hit by two powerful earthquakes on February 6, 2023, claiming the lives of more than 53,000 people and leaving millions homeless.

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 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 protests, the CHP issued a statement, saying that it was reconsidering Savaş’s candidacy.

Savaş’s name was not read out as one of the party’s mayoral candidates at an event held in Ankara on Sunday where the CHP introduced its candidates for mayor, which led to claims that the party might withdraw his candidacy.

Savaş, who is currently in the CHP, served as mayor of Hatay’s Antakya district between 2009 and 2014 from the AKP. He resigned when the party failed to nominate him as a mayoral candidate for Hatay in the 2014 local elections and joined the CHP. He has been serving as mayor of Hatay from the CHP since 2014 and was re-elected in the local elections of 2019.

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