Live broadcasts of city council meetings in Ankara and Istanbul have sparked huge public interest, with hundreds of thousands of locals regularly watching everything from waterworks tenders to debates on cheaper bus tickets for students.

The broadcasts, shown via the city councils’ social media accounts, fulfill promises by newly-elected opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayors to increase local government transparency.

Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu was the first to initiate the live broadcasts in April this year, with the initial two meetings watched online by 3.5 million people.

Commenting on the huge interest in watching the broadcasts, Imamoğlu tweeted that the “16 million citizens of Istanbul are now being informed on all decisions made in the City Council’s meetings.

 “This is a promising development in terms of democracy in Istanbul and Turkey.”

In Ankara, a recent live-streamed tender for the purchase of steel pipes for the city’s water and sewerage department brought in an audience of 400,0000 people. 

“Instead of watching series or movies on TV and the internet, people watch tender processes,” Ankara’s mayor Mansur Yavaş told Deutsche Welle recently. “That shows their support for the government’s transparency and is the proof that we are on the right track.”

One of the CHP’s main promises ahead of the local elections held on 31 March this year was more transparent government, as well as better management of resources and taxpayers’ money.

Although CHP’s mayoral candidates won in some of the biggest cities in Turkey, such as Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) still controls most city and municipal councils. This means that these two parties have to cooperate if they want local governments to function; and their debates are now open to scrutiny by the public.

CHP member Haydar Demir has served two terms on Ankara’s city council and believes that Yavaş made the right decision when he requested council session to be broadcast live, a measure never instituted during AKP rule.

“The transparency of local government shouldn’t be seen as a favour [to citizens], but an obligation. Why? Because the citizens should know how every penny of their taxes is being spent”, he said, adding, “By being transparent, we will earn the citizens’ trust again.”

Demir said that this new approach has already gained a lot of public support. 

“Citizens now know not only what the municipal government is deciding on, but also which position each party takes on certain issues,” he explained.

Hasan Efe, an Ankara resident who regularly watches the live broadcasts, agreed that this will have a positive effect on the government’s accountability.

“I watch these broadcasts because I want to know the government’s position on various issues, he said. “This will strengthen citizens’ ability to put the right questions to the government and make them feel accountable.”

Local officials would now face more scrutiny, he said, adding, “The broadcasts will also enable the citizens to see how the elected officials do their job, and will give the voters a chance to re-evaluate their choice in the next election cycle.”