From the Ottoman Empire years, Turkey had witnessed many waves of centralism and decentralism. Today, we are observing another form of administration from the beginning of the 2000s. In this study, we will investigate this latter form of administration and its three striking points.
In the first years of the 2000s, the public opposed the decentralization policies proposed by AKP because of the Kurdish question and the fear of losing national unity. Then, after the loosened terror atmosphere, AKP started new approaches in the 2010s. However, these policies did not aim to decentralization but aim to recentralization at the local level. The competencies on planning rights were transferred to municipalities, with the new municipality law, the metropolitan municipality number increased to 30s, and the expenses focused on infrastructure, housing (TOKI), and transport. As a result, the local areas started to be centralized, and the metropolitan mayors gained a huge hegemonic political position in their cities (Bayraktar, 2014).
According to Savaskan, the urbanization trend had arisen during the AKP era. As the expenditures in the article indicate, many of the decisions and actions were about development plans and infrastructure under the names of mega projects rather than social policies. However, at some points, the municipalities could not finish these projects like occurred in 2010. The government decided to complete these projects by using its discretionary power. Five billion to Istanbul, seven billion to Ankara, and only thirty thousand Turkish Liras transferred to Izmir, governed by CHP. (Süzer,2019, as cited in Savaskan,2014 ) This table shows us the municipalities’ budget could not continue such projects; also, they have to forego social policies that have to be prioritized. More importantly, it is also clear that the AKP ruling privileges the mayors and municipal councils from the same party. It can be said that both the AKP what to perform and what not to perform in local governments are carrying political meanings rather than only administrative actions. For instance, The Housing Development Agency is, as Bayraktar (2014) stated, is an emblematic institution. Although it does not comply with the New Public Management principles, it indeed complies with the AKP urbanization plans. Since the TOKI carries the transformation of localities meaning, maybe we can link it with history. As to how the illegal houses often on public land (gecekondus) (Bayraktar, 2014, as cited in Şengül, 2001) affected the Justice party position at that time, a similar way of thinking aims those social groups could cause this transformation movement.
On the other hand, the law enacted in 2014 expanded the metropolitan municipal borders by abandoning the villages’ legal personalities. According to Tan (2000), this law was enacted to achieve recentralization at the local level. Still, the author also states that it was not an act of returning the power of local government to the central administration. The power of the villages and the special provincial administration was transferred to the metropolitan municipalities. As a result, such type of regulation, from another perspective, can be interpreted as empowering local government against the central government. (Tan, 2018) This regulation also raised some questions in terms of service providing. Since the villages had autonomy in terms of fiscal and administration in their areas, it could be said that the democratic structures of the villages in metropolitan municipalities were hugely weakened. Also, the distance between the city center and the villages is open to prevent service provision properly.
Another point about the empowerment of metropolitan municipalities is the contradiction between local and central government. For instance, the Canal Istanbul project, heavily supported by the president and the AKP government, also aroused intense reaction from Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. Imamoglu, as the mayor, drove campaigns against the project by posters around the city. Consequently, the ministry of interior started an investigation about Imamoglu (BBC, 2020). Eventually, the power of the metropolitan cities and the central administration’s tutelage could create conflicts when the government and the municipality come from different political parties. Even worse, the president could blame the opposition party mayors for creating another state in the state (Karar 2020, as cited in Savaskan, 2020)
In conclusion, it could be said that the administration model in Turkey shows a dynamic structure after the beginning of the 2000s. Political interests mostly influence these dynamics. Eventually, observing coherent series of actions through centralization or decentralization is becoming more and more challenging under current political atmosphere.
Bayraktar, Ulaş (2014) “Decentralisation, poly-centralisation and re-centralisation of Turkish politics: A matrix of central-local relationships”, in Göymen ve Sazak (ed.), Centralisation Decentralisation Debate Revisited, IPM & FNS publications, İstanbul, pp. 321-346.
BBC News Türkçe (17 Kasım 2020) Kanal İstanbul: Ekrem İmamoğlu hakkında proje karşıtı afişler nedeniyle inceleme başlatıldı. https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-turkiye-54969558
Savaşkan Osman (2020) “Political dynamics of local government reform in a development context: The case of Turkey”, Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space. https://doi.org/10.1177/2399654420943903.
Tan, Evrim (2018) “Quo vadis? The local government in Turkey after public management reforms”, International Review of Administrative Sciences, 0(0) pp. 1–19. (Online first)
Figure 1. TOKI. [Photograph] Retrieved from http://i.toki.gov.tr/AppResources/Uploads/Projeler/379f365b-de67-4f5a-87a5-9dcb790fca9e.jpg
Figure 2. Canal Istanbul. [Map] Walljasper, S. National Geographic. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/istanbul-canal-project-bosporus-environmental-impacts