Turkey drafting law to restrict powers of Istanbul municipality 

The new law —  currently being prepared by the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning —  will shift jurisdiction over development along the Bosporus. (Shutterstock)
Updated 01 November 2019

Turkey drafting law to restrict powers of Istanbul municipality 

  • Supporters of the new draft law say it will resolve confusion about overlapping authorities and help combat illegal housing in the city

ANKARA: The Turkish presidency is drafting a law that will remove power from the opposition-held Istanbul metropolitan municipality. Many suspect that the motive behind the legislation is retaliation against Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, the Nation Alliance candidate who won office in a landslide victory in June against Binali Yildirim, the candidate from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

According to local press reports, the new law —  currently being prepared by the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning —  will shift jurisdiction over development along the Bosporus from the Istanbul metropolitan municipality to a “Bosporus presidency” whose members will be appointed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and will also restrict the municipality’s power to make amendments to development plans in the city, allowing the Bosporus presidency to assign the city’s “green areas” —  effectively allowing it to decide where construction can or cannot take place in Istanbul.

“The unilateral transfer of powers to the presidency illustrates just how imbalanced Turkey’s division of power is,” Nate Schenkkan, director for special research at US NGO Freedom House, told Arab News.

Turkey’s once-booming construction sector, which is seen by many as one of the main factors behind the AKP’s uninterrupted electoral success, has come to a grinding halt in recent months, mainly due to the collapse of the Turkish currency. A number of planned urban-redevelopment projects, slated to run into billions of dollars, are now in need of government subsidies to remain viable.

For 2019, Erdogan had promised to start the construction of a 43-km canal near Istanbul, along with a number of new towns along its banks. The opening of Istanbul airport last year was also seen as a megaproject intended to back the ailing construction sector. 

Supporters of the new draft law say it will resolve confusion about overlapping authorities and help combat illegal housing in the city.  

But Imamoglu has strongly criticized the draft law, telling Euronews that the municipality will “claim its rights” if the law passes. 

Schenkkan believes that is likely. “The judicial system is also under strong presidential influence, which grows by the month as the president has more opportunities for appointments,” he said. “So successfully challenging (it) in the courts is a difficult task.

“Under the new constitution, the president can essentially transfer powers to himself and then dare other institutions to have it overturned in the courts. Combined with the continued use of trustees to replace mayors in the southeast, this shows the limits of the opposition’s success at the local level in this year’s elections,” he continued.

In mid-August, trustees were appointed to four pro-Kurdish HDP municipalities in Turkey’s southeast, because of the areas’ alleged links to terrorism. The mayors of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van, all from the HDP, were suspended over suspected terror links, and there is mounting speculation that Imamoglu could also be removed from office.

According to Seren Selvin Korkmaz, cofounder and executive director of the independent IstanPol Institute in Istanbul, the government’s attempts to centralize power and remove responsibilities from local municipalities is typical of the AKP.

“The ruling AKP has followed a neo-liberal populist agenda combined with increasing nepotism and clientelism,” she told Arab News. “It is (obvious) that the loss of major cities including Istanbul, Ankara, and İzmir is a major blow for AKP’s rent-seeking economy.”

Korkmaz also added that the ruling party had been in charge of the country’s largest cities and central government for almost two decades, and had used urban space and municipality services to establish rent mechanisms that best suited it.

“Commodification of land, urban transformation projects and clientelist redistribution mechanisms created a chain of patronage relationships which ensure continuous support (for the AKP),” she said, adding that the AKP’s losses in recent local elections meant that chain’s “flawless mechanism” had been broken.

Korkmaz said that while the Bosphorus area is clearly an attractive proposition for developers looking to construct high-yield rental accommodation, the government’s plans could backfire if it continues to remove power from local non-AKP authorities —  a move that could strengthen the opposition’s “victimized position” and unite supporters of the opposition parties.

“That always has the potential to turn the vote in Turkish politics,” she said. “Also, it may compel the opposition to be more creative in its strategies for reaching voters.”


Israel parliament moves for third election as talks falter

Updated 11 December 2019

Israel parliament moves for third election as talks falter

  • On Wednesday morning the Israeli parliament passed 50-0 a preliminary reading of a bill immediately dissolving parliament and setting a new election for March 2
  • New elections would add to the political challenges facing Benjamin Netanyahu
JERUSALEM: Israel’s parliament began rushing through a bill on Wednesday to call a third general election within a year as talks between embattled premier Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist rival broke down ahead of a midnight deadline.
A deal to avert a new election must be reached before 11:59 p.m. (2159 GMT), following a deadlocked vote in September.
But Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz, both of whom have repeatedly failed to build a governing majority in the Knesset, or parliament, have spent days trading blame for failing coalition talks.
On Wednesday morning the Israeli parliament passed 50-0 a preliminary reading of a bill immediately dissolving parliament and setting a new election for March 2.
It must face three more plenary readings and votes during the day before being passed.
New elections would add to the political challenges facing Netanyahu — Israel’s longest serving premier, now governing in a caretaker capacity — at a time when, weakened by corruption charges, he must fend off internal challengers in his right-wing Likud party.
Netanyahu and Gantz, a former armed forces chief who heads the centrist Blue and White party, had been discussing a potential unity government, but disagreed on who should lead it.
Last month, when Netanyahu was indicted on corruption charges, Gantz called on him to step down.
On Tuesday night Netanyahu called on Gantz to stop “spinning.”
“After 80 days, it’s time that for one day, for the citizens of Israel, we sit and have a serious discussion about forming a broad unity government. It’s not too late,” he said on social media.
Gantz said his party was making “efforts to find a way to form a government without us giving up the fundamental principles that brought us into politics.”
If confirmed, it would be the first time Israel’s weary electorate has been asked to go to the polls for a third time within 12 months.
The parties of Netanyahu and Gantz were nearly deadlocked in September’s election, following a similarly inconclusive poll in April.
Israel’s proportional system is reliant on coalition building, and both parties fell well short of the 61 seats needed to command a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Both were then given 28-day periods to try and forge a workable coalition but failed, forcing President Reuven Rivlin to turn to parliament with his deadline for Wednesday.
New elections are deeply unpopular with the Israeli public, which has expressed mounting anger and frustration with the entire political class.
Both parties had been trying to convince Avigdor Lieberman, a crucial kingmaker, to join their blocs.
But the former nightclub bouncer, whose secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party holds the balance of power, has refused.
Kann Radio reported Tuesday that Netanyahu had abandoned hopes of earning Lieberman’s endorsement.
Lieberman pointed out that Likud and Blue and White wouldn’t need his support if they could agree to work together.
“If during the next 24 hours a government is not formed it will be solely because the leaders of the two big parties — Likud and Blue and White — were not willing to set aside their egos,” he said on Facebook Tuesday.
“All the rest is lies and excuses.”
Netanyahu was indicted last month for bribery, breach of trust and fraud relating to three separate corruption cases.
He strongly denies the allegations and accuses the media, police and prosecution of a witch-hunt.
No date has yet been set for the beginning of the proceedings and, under Israeli law, Netanyahu can remain in office despite an indictment.
He also faces a potential challenge from within his own Likud party.
To boost his support, Netanyahu has pushed his plan to annex a strategic part of the occupied West Bank, as well as signing a defense treaty with the United States.
He is a close ally of US President Donald Trump, who has taken a number of controversial steps in support of Netanyahu’s agenda.
Blue and White, meanwhile, pledged Monday to run with only one leader in the next election — Gantz.
Previously Yair Lapid, second in command in the coalition, was meant to alternate the premiership, but on Monday Lapid said: “We’ll all get behind Benny Gantz, our candidate for prime minister.”
Despite Netanyahu’s indictment, polls suggest that a third round of elections could still be neck and neck — prompting some Israelis to speculate about yet another electoral stalemate.
A commentary writer for the Israel Hayom newspaper suggested that “a fourth election is even now visible on the horizon sometime in early September 2020.”