ANKARA: Yusuf Derin, 45, is the father of four and has desperately been searching for employment since losing his job at a restaurant when it closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which has led to a nationwide recession.
One day, before his regular journey to the Ankara office of the Turkish Employment Agency, his daughter complained, “Daddy, there is not even any bread at home.”
His daughter’s statement pushed him to take the kettle from his house and sell tea to other unemployed people queuing at the employment office so that he could at least earn enough money to buy bread.
Derin, with his facemask on and old kettle in hand, is just one among tens of thousands of low-income families in Ankara, some of them living below the poverty line.
But Ankara’s mayor, Mansur Yavas — who took over the post from the long-serving Melih Gokcek, affiliated to the ruling AKP party — has focused his efforts on addressing poverty in Turkey’s capital with targeted solutions. And Derin is one of those who is set to benefit. He will begin a new job as a waiter thanks to Yavas and his team.
“He called me today and gave me the good news. He found me a good job where I will again bring bread and food to my family,” Nerin told Arab News on Friday. “My elder daughter graduated from university last year and she was also unemployed. They will also find her a job.”
Ankara municipality has also been providing food to his family during Ramadan, along with thousands of other families in need.
One year into his tenure, Ankara’s secular mayor represents a robust and resilient challenge to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in terms of popularity. According to research carried out by Metropoll in April, Turkish people believe Yavas has dealt with the COVID-19 crisis more successfully than Erdogan.
Yavas has been widely praised for his social projects during the pandemic, which have helped people from all backgrounds, making him the public’s third most-trusted figure with 8.18 points.
Erdogan comes fourth, with a score of 6.65, while Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, another challenger to Erdogan, ranked sixth in the list, which was topped by Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca and the ministry’s Science Commission, comprised of scientists with varying political affiliations.
Asked whether they contributed to the nationwide fund-raising campaign initiated by Erdogan in March, 70.8 percent said they didn’t. Almost half the respondents held the government accountable for mismanagement of the two-day curfew, which stirred panic-buying as it was declared just two hours before midnight.
Berk Esen, a political scientist from Bilkent University in Ankara, said that, since the outbreak of the pandemic in Turkey, some opposition-controlled municipalities had emerged as success stories because of their response to the socio-economic and public-health impact of COVID-19.
“One of the major winners in this period has been Ankara mayor Mansur Yavas, who gathered praise from different circles and mass voters,” he told Arab News. “The Ankara municipality continued to offer high-quality services even at the height of the pandemic. Moreover, the municipality used innovative social-media methods to collect donations from the public to provide social assistance to hundreds of thousands of families,” he said.
Esen believes Yavas and his team promoted a sense of solidarity across the city, raising hundreds of millions of lira that were redistributed in an accountable manner through non-partisan programs that helped voters regardless of their party allegiance. Recently, Ankara Municipality set up a website where people can donate a hot iftar meal, to people in need during Ramadan for only a few dollars. In total, 73,860 people bought around 500,000 Ramadan packages through the site.
“These policies demonstrate a sharp contrast to the Erdogan administration's alienating and insufficient response to the corona pandemic,” Esen said.
“Opposition mayors have gained strong support — even among pro-Erdogan voters — because of the government's failure to provide social assistance to the needy and offer financial help to those who have lost their jobs during this period,” he continued. “Instead, Erdogan and his cabinet ministers have generally tried to politicize the crisis, targeting opposition mayors, and alienating opposition voters.”