Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Seçim zamanı

I recently had a gig helping arrange some logistics for an NGO that was bringing a group of Arab politicians to Turkey to see how local elections are run here. When I met the coordinators, I joked, "The first thing you've got to tell them is that the guy with the most flags wins."

The streets of Istanbul are so festooned with election banners these days, from some spots you can barely see the sky. "Dream big!" one party exhorts; "Taking action for you!" another promises. While the strings of flags represent an alphabet soup of political parties -- AKP, CHP, DTP, MHP -- it's never been clearer to me how much an advantage the incumbent party has in advertising itself. The ruling AKP can distribute thick, glossy catalogs touting the "315 projects in 5 years" it's conducted in my neighborhood, Beyoğlu. It can put massive billboards bearing an image of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his coat dusted with snow and a huge crowd gathering behind him, advertising the party's final pre-election rally in the area: "In snow, in winter, in rain, all of Istanbul on its feet!" And, it can trot out the biggest, baddest campaign vehicle around.

While supporters of other parties circle Taksim Square in battered cars with dragging bumpers and megaphones duct-taped (OK, I might be exaggerating on that part -- but only that) to the roof, the AKP has a gleaming white tour bus with wrap-around advertising and a matching, concert-ready speaker system on top. All crank out campaign jingles as loud as they possibly can, the sound ranging from ear-shattering to merely deafening. While most find this aggravating, and rightly so, I can't help but get a laugh out of it, and strangely, a bit of nostalgia too. Istanbul is undoubtedly a noisy city, but music -- however painful -- blaring out of cars is something I don't hear much, certainly not the way I did in the Mission district, when the thumping of a low rider's overtaxed stereo, not the call to prayer, was the soundtrack to street life.


Adrian Cotter said...

reminds me of elections in taiwan. i wanted to run a scavenger hunt where you had to collect flags from politicians.

has obama been through istanbul?

The Turkish Life said...

Obama is here! Staying at a hotel not far up the road, from what I understand. We are all anticipating traffic nightmare tomorrow.