Mansur Yavaş: how many people know what he really thinks?

The Mayor of Ankara has run a stealth campaign to become the opposition’s candidate for president. The trouble will start if he’s actually selected
Mansur Yavaş, Mayor of Ankara, could face Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in this year’s presidential election

Few people in Turkey have a bad word to say about Mansur Yavaş.

The Mayor of Ankara enjoys a consistently high approval rating; he is widely recognised outside of his home town and – even AK Party members will grudgingly admit, albeit in private – his four years in office have made their mark.

He became Ankara mayor on his third attempt. His first was in 2009 as candidate for the far-right MHP, where he surprised just about everyone by coming a respectable third.

That prompted Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to arrange a transfer for the CHP ahead of 2014 –an election he lost only narrowly.

Yavaş maintains it was because of fraud at the ballot boxes.

Whatever the truth, there is no doubt he won the 2019 election comfortably, a remarkable feat for a left-wing party candidate in a fairly conservative city.

He has since run Ankara ably and without the bizarre and confrontational manner of his long-serving AK Party predecessor, Melih Gökçek.

Yet unlike his Istanbul counterpart Ekrem İmamoğlu, he actively shuns the limelight: Yavaş rarely gives interviews and speaks even less often about issues of national importance.

Melih Gökçek, the man no-one misses

A potential Yavaş candidacy have divided opinion: some think his sensible management of Ankara would translate well into a stint running the country, channelling both the experience of Kılıçdaroğlu and the likeability of İmamoğlu.

Others, especially Kurds, point to his Turkish nationalist background and say he would never work for them. That criticism is also voiced about Meral Akşener.

It’s fair to say supporters outnumber opponents. Perhaps that’s because the candidate himself has said so little about the idea.

There is no doubt he is a committed member of the opposition – he regularly criticises Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and enthusiastically supports the restoration of parliamentary democracy in Turkey – but he generally avoids wading into matters outside his Ankara brief.

This is a clear strategy on his part – and make no mistake, this is a strategy to win the presidency.

One awkward outcome of a Yavaş presidential triumph: his party would lose control of Ankara

Yavaş has never explicitly ruled himself out of the race and has clearly decided his best shot is to not enter the fray until it becomes absolutely necessary.

But that also makes him a hugely unknown quantity. We know his nationalist past and we know he’s an observant Muslim.

What would he do with demands for the Kurdish language to be recognised in schools, in the court system and in other areas of public life?

We don’t really know, because he hasn’t told us.

Yavaş does poll well in a possible contest against Erdoğan. The risk is that many opposition voters may decide, once they find out what he actually believes, that he is not the man they were looking for.

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