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Record number of female mayors marks historic election victory for Turkish opposition

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Sunday’s local elections in Turkey, which saw the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) topple President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in key municipalities for the first time in decades, also saw a record number of female mayors elected.

According to preliminary results, with over 99.8 percent of the ballots counted, the CHP has secured 37.7 percent of the vote, taking control of major cities and marking substantial gains across various regions. The AKP, for the first time in 22 years, trailed behind as the second party with 35.4 percent of the vote. This marks a significant departure from the 2019 local elections, in which the AKP garnered at 44.3 percent and the CHP 30.1 percent.

The elections have also marked a landmark success for female political leadership in Turkey. The number of female mayors has doubled, with women winning mayoral elections in 11 provinces, compared to only four in the last local elections. These include important victories in cities such as Aydın, Diyarbakır, Eskişehir, Tekirdağ, Ağrı, Afyonkarahisar, Batman, Bilecik, Edirne and Siirt as well as in Gaziantep, where AKP Mayor Fatma Şahin was re-elected.

Speaking to Deutsche Welle’s Turkish service, Nuray Karaoğlu, chairwoman of the Association for the Support of Women Candidates (KA.DER), emphasized the importance of these results and explained that they were not only a political change but also a harbinger of social change. Karaoğlu said the increase in female mayors is a direct result of a long struggle for the representation of women in decision-making mechanisms and serves as an inspiration for future generations.

The results show that there are many female mayors in both large metropolitan areas and in smaller districts. In total, 11 provinces, five of them metropolitan municipalities, and 16 district municipalities elected women mayors.

In the western city of Aydın, Özlem Çerçioğlu of the CHP was re-elected mayor, achieving a remarkable victory with 50.53 percent of the vote. Çerçioğlu’s political career began in 2002 as a CHP deputy for Aydın, and she is now beginning her third term as mayor.

In the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakır, Ayşe Serra Bucak Küçük of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party) was elected mayor, bringing her extensive background in education and social work to local politics.

Ayşe Ünlüce, another CHP candidate, secured the seat of mayor of Eskişehir with 51 percent of the vote. Ünlüce, who has a strong legal background and previous service in the city administration, represents a continuation of the CHP’s rule in the city at the end of Mayor Yılmaz Büyükerşen’s term in office.

Tekirdağ welcomed its first female mayor, Candan Yüceer, also from the CHP, who won the election with 50.15 percent of the vote. Yüceer is a medical doctor by profession and an experienced politician with several terms as a CHP deputy.

The race for mayor of predominantly Kurdish Ağrı was won by Hazal Aras of the DEM Party, who received 51.07 percent of the vote. Aras has a background in social sciences and has been actively involved in local politics since 2004.

The western city of Bilecik elected Melek Mızrak Subaşı of the CHP with 48.88 percent of the vote, while Turkey’s westernmost city of Edirne celebrated the election of Filiz Gencan Akın of the CHP as its first female mayor, with 46.67 percent of the vote.

In Siirt, Sofya Alağaş of the DEM Party was elected with 49.39 percent of the vote.

Women were also elected district mayors in İstanbul, Ankara, İzmir, Adana and Antalya.

Kurdish women vs. extremism

In yet another Kurdish majority city, Batman, Gülistan Sönük of the DEM Party was elected mayor with an impressive 64.52 percent of the vote. Sönük’s victory over the Free Cause Party (HÜDA-PAR) candidate is especially significant considering that the city is viewed as the birthplace of the extremist militant group Hizbullah.

Hizbullah has been accused of kidnappings, torture and assassinations, particularly targeting individuals connected to Kurdish political movements. HÜDA-PAR’s history is inextricably linked to Hizbullah. HÜDA-PAR, founded on the principles of Kurdish nationalism and Sunni Islamism, ran in the parliamentary elections of June 2015 and 2018, supporting Erdoğan in the 2018 presidential election and again in 2023.

Sönük’s landslide victory with her progressive agenda and commitment to solving local problems is noteworthy in a city with a strong Islamist tradition.

Nationalist heartland also has a female mayor

The western Turkish province of Afyonkarahisar now has Burcu Köksal of the CHP as its mayor, becoming the city’s first female mayor with 50.73 percent of the vote.

Köksal sparked controversy with her remarks targeting the pro-Kurdish DEM Party before the elections, causing anger, disappointment and frustration not only among the country’s Kurds but also within her party.

Köksal said that if elected, the doors of the municipality would be open to all parties except the pro-Kurdish DEM Party, whose support for the CHP in past elections without being included in an alliance of opposition parties has led to regret in the wake of Köksal’s remarks and similar statements from CHP politicians against the Kurds.

Kurdish journalist Nurcan Baysal and prominent Kurdish lawyer and human rights activist Eren Keskin described Köksal on social media as a “racist” due to her remarks targeting the DEM Party. Kurdish politician Ferhat Encü tweeted that there was no slip of the tongue in Köksal’s remarks as she later claimed, but rather the “reflection of a fascist and racist mentality” and “enmity towards Kurds ….”

The CHP denounced Köksal’s remarks, saying that just as in the past, the doors of CHP-run municipalities will be open to everyone and that nobody will be denied public services or their rights due to their ethnic identity.

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