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08ANKARA2083 2008-12-04 11:46:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Ankara
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1. (C) Summary: The ruling AKP party remains confident that
it will win the provinces of Central Anatolia in 2009 local
elections. This is an area that is conservative and
religious by nature and AKP's administration there is largely
seen as successful. The provinces of Sivas and Yozgat
exemplify the region. Still, the AKP administration of both
provinces, accustomed to years of economic stability and
growth, appears unprepared for a possible economic downturn,
offering a slim -- but tantalizing -- chance to the
opposition. End summary.

2. (SBU) We visited Sivas and Yozgat on 25-26 November in the
lead-up to local elections in March 2009. They are the
capitals of two rural provinces due east of Ankara, and are
largely representative of conservative inner Anatolia: both
provinces voted overwhelmingly for AKP in the past two
elections; in the previous two general elections, they sent
to parliament representatives from an assortment of parties
representing the center, nationalist, and religious right.
Sivas is a bustling city of roughly 300,000 people; Yozgat is
a smaller town of 74,000. Sivas has a long and varied
history. It is as a former Armenian and Seljuk capital and
served as an Ottoman administrative center after being taken
from the wreckage of Tamerlane's Empire in 1408. In 1919, a
congress held in Sivas, led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, decided
to oppose foreign occupation, to break away from the Sultan's
government in Istanbul, and to found what would become the
Turkish Republic. Both Sivas and Yozgat are largely
agricultural: because their economies are based on basic
necessities, such as wheat, cotton, sugar beets, and wool,
they may be better able to weather an economic downturn than
other provinces, but economic worries still will dominate the
pre-election political debate of the coming months.



3. (C) The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) holds
the mayor's office of both Sivas and Yozgat. Both mayors
were brimming with confidence about the good they'd brought
to their towns and about their prospects in the coming
elections. Sami Aydin, the mayor of Sivas, showed us a book
of photographs depicting Sivas before and after his term:
broken, uneven sidewalks had been replaced with neat, broad,
colored cement walkways; the main intersection in town (in
front of the building where Ataturk convened the republic's
nascent government) went from ugly, blasted wasteland, to a
repaved, orderly square complete with fountain; the filthy,
garbage-filled ditches next to the downtown area are now the
Aksu project, a series of beautiful canals full of sparkling
blue water.

4. (C) He also boasted of replacing asbestos-laden water
pipes, beginning the construction of a waste water
purification plant, and bringing natural gas to supplant
air-polluting coal. Aydin claimed that the money to fund
these projects comes in part from EU grants, but also from
better resource management. He claimed that the new pipes
cut water loss from 60 to 20 percent, for instance, and that
the city actually saved money by retiring old buses that
required constant costly maintenance, replacing them with
new, more reliable buses. The result is that Sivas is no
longer losing people to emigration and has actually started
attracting new residents in the past year.

5. (C) Yusuf Baser, the mayor of Yozgat, is equally proud of
his achievements: "Because Yozgat's license plates carry the
number 66, I promised 66 development projects. We have
completed 65 of them." Among these projects are paved roads
("the first asphalt these people have seen"), a new town
square, a solid waste disposal system and purification plant,
a renovated Ottoman villa turned museum, a microcredit
project to allow women to open handicraft stores,
tourist-friendly thermal spas, and incentives for added
investment in the local sugar beet processing and metallurgy
plants, to name but a few. Both men are confident that AKP
will retain the mayoralties of their cities, predicting 50
percent support at the polls, and neither thought that the
global economic crisis would reach as far as their towns.

ANKARA 00002083 002 OF 003

6. (C) AKP provincial chairmen in both cities were equally
optimistic. They accepted that this would be AKP's toughest
election yet, but were certain of victory. Zeki Kilic, the
AKP chairman in Sivas said AKP's election strategy would
emphasize confidence, trust, sincerity, and provision of
services. The people could see the development AKP had
brought to the city over the past six years; this, coupled
with the trust and sincerity with which AKP works would carry
the day. The chairman in Yozgat, Zekeriya Avsar, echoed
similar themes, saying that explaining and showing AKP's
previous development successes would convince voters to once
again vote for AKP. When asked what AKP would do if the
looming economic crisis were to hit Turkey, he responded that
the people who lead well in prosperity would be trusted by
the voters to lead well in hardship.



7. (C) Opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leaders in
both cities paint a far gloomier picture. They claim that
the AKP's alleged economic successes are entirely cosmetic,
and may actually be harmful, rather than beneficial. Bulent
Renda Deniz, the CHP provincial chairman in Sivas, pointed to
the Aksu project as a perfect example of this seeming
contradiction. Although people deserve to have a clean,
attractive city center, more important to them is having work
with which to support their families. Projects like Aksu,
repaving sidewalks, and planting trees do not provide
long-term work for the citizens of Sivas and do not bring
outside investment. They only give jobs to the owners of the
construction companies and materials suppliers, who are not
from Sivas. He alleges further that the improvements are
concentrated only along the few major streets in Sivas; "just
fifty meters" from these streets, the pipes are still made of
asbestos, the roads are still either unpaved or full of
potholes, and the buildings are decrepit. Deniz also
questioned where the funds for such projects come from. He
suspects Sivas is deeply in debt, but as the budget is not
available for review, he cannot prove it.

8. (C) CHP members in Yozgat made similar allegations about
the city beautification projects there. The CHP provincial
chairman, Ali Keven, claimed that these surface investments
are part of a "beggar strategy" for elections. AKP keeps
Yozgat looking good for outsiders, but generates no new jobs;
it then provides the jobless with fundamental needs, such as
coal, health services, and food, forcing the masses to vote
for AKP, lest a new administration curtail the benefits upon
which they have come to depend. He noted that 20 percent of
the population is poor, and that three quarters of the
farmers in the area could not afford to use fertilizer in
their fields this year; these people will be dependent on
government handouts, and will vote for AKP to ensure that
handouts continue. Both men said CHP's electoral strategy
would emphasize transparency and accountability in governance
as a way to curb extravagance and corruption. A separate
conversation with the Vice Rector of Sivas's Cumhuriyet
University seems to support CHP claims: he said that though
roughly half of the students at the university are from
Sivas, most leave after graduation because they cannot find
work at home, despite the fact that engineering and
agriculture are two of the school's strongest departments.

8. (C) COMMENT: CHP criticisms are not entirely misplaced.
The projects in Sivas are, indeed, very attractive, but
nothing mayor Aydin mentioned or that we saw in Sivas
appeared to offer any significant job creation or investment
opportunities. Mayor Baser's programs appear to have more
potential. How AKP will fare in March's local elections may
depend on how vulnerable Turkey's economy proves to be to the
global economic crisis. Under normal circumstances,
provinces like Sivas and Yozgat should be safe bets for AKP
at the polls. But neither province's mayor nor provincial
AKP chairman could elucidate a definite strategy for
weathering a deep crisis. If the economy were to enter rapid
decline soon, AKP could have difficulty repeating its
landslide electoral success.

Visit Ankara's Classified Web Site at

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