Turkey’s opposition strikes blow to Erdogan with Istanbul mayoral win

Ekrem Imamoglu, mayoral candidate of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), greets supporters at a rally of in Beylikduzu district, in Istanbul, Turkey, June 23, 2019. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan

By Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Spicer

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s opposition has dealt President Tayyip Erdogan a stinging blow by winning control of Istanbul in a re-run mayoral election, breaking his aura of invincibility and delivering a message from voters unhappy over his ever tighter grip on power.

Ekrem Imamoglu of the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) secured 54.21% of votes, the head of the High Election Board announced on Monday – a far wider victory margin than his narrow win three months ago.

The previous result was annulled after protests from Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party, which said there had been widespread voting irregularities. The decision to re-run the vote was criticized by Western allies and caused uproar among domestic opponents who said Turkey’s democracy was under threat.

On Sunday and in the early hours Monday, tens of thousands of Imamoglu supporters celebrated in the streets of Istanbul after the former businessman triumphed over Erdogan’s handpicked candidate by almost 800,000 votes.

“In this city today, you have fixed democracy. Thank you Istanbul,” Imamoglu told supporters who made heart signs with their hands, in an expression of the inclusive election rhetoric that has been the hallmark of his campaigning.

“We came to embrace everyone,” he said. “We will build democracy in this city, we will build justice. In this beautiful city, I promise, we will build the future.”

Erdogan congratulated him for the victory and Imamoglu’s rival, Binali Yildirim of the ruling AK Party (AKP), wished him luck as mayor barely two hours after polls closed.


Erdogan has ruled Turkey since 2003, first as prime minister and then as president, becoming the country’s most dominant politician since its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, nearly a century ago.

His AKP has strong support among pious and conservative Turks and its stewardship of Turkey’s economy through a decade and a half of construction-fuelled growth helped Erdogan win more than a dozen national and local elections.

But economic recession and a financial crisis have eroded that support and Erdogan’s ever-tighter control over government has alarmed some voters.

Turkey’s lira tumbled after the decision to annul the March vote and is down 8% this year, in part on election jitters.

But assets rallied on Monday as investors welcomed the removal of one source of political uncertainty. The lira firmed 1% against the dollar, shares rose nearly 2% and bond yields fell.

Imamoglu won support even in traditionally pious Istanbul districts, once known as AK Party strongholds, ending the 25-year-long Islamist rule in the country’s largest city.

“This re-run (election) was one to put an end to the dictatorship,” said Gulcan Demirkaya, a 48-year-old housewife in Istanbul’s AKP-leaning Kagithane district. “God willing, I would like to see him as the president in five years’ time. The one-man rule should come to an end.”


The results are likely to trigger a new chapter in Turkish politics, now that the country’s top three cities now held by the opposition. Cracks could also emerge within Erdogan’s AKP, bringing the economic troubles more to the fore.

“This is definitely going to have an impact on the future of Turkish politics given the margin of victory. It’s alarming sign for the AKP establishment,” said Sinan Ulgen, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels and former Turkish diplomat.

Analysts say the loss could set off a Cabinet reshuffle in Ankara and adjustments to foreign policy. The leader of the AKP’s nationalist ally played down the prospect that the loss could even trigger a national election earlier 2023, when the next polls are scheduled.

“The election process should close,” MHP party leader Devlet Bahceli said. “Talking of an early election would be among the worst things that can be done to our country.”

The uncertainty over the fate of Istanbul and potential delays in broader economic reforms have kept financial markets on edge. Threats of sanctions by the United States if Erdogan goes ahead with plans to install Russian missile defenses have also weighed on the markets.

A Council of Europe delegation said its observers were given a “less than friendly reception” in some places and had “too many unnecessarily aggressive and argumentative encounters to ignore,” but that the election was conducted competently.

“The citizens of Istanbul elected a new mayor in a well-organized and transparent vote, albeit in tense circumstances,” delegation head Andrew Dawson said in a statement.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Spicer; Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun, Ali Kucukgocmen and Daren Butler; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Jon Boyle)

Erdogan suffers major setbacks in local elections in Turkey’s big cities

Supporters of AK Party wave flags in Ankara, Turkey April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

By Orhan Coskun and Can Sezer

ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan suffered stunning setbacks in local elections as his ruling AK Party lost control of the capital Ankara for the first time since the party’s founding in 2001, possibly complicating his plans to fight back recession.

Both the AKP and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) claimed victory in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city and economic hub. The AKP said it had “plenty of” evidence of voting irregularities in Istanbul.

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics since coming to power 16 years ago and ruled his country with an ever tighter grip, campaigned relentlessly for two months ahead of Sunday’s vote, which he described as a “matter of survival” for Turkey.

But his daily rallies and overwhelmingly supportive media coverage failed to win over voters in the two main cities, as last year’s punishing currency crisis weighed heavily on Turks.

“The people have voted in favor of democracy, they have chosen democracy,” said opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, whose secularist CHP also held its Aegean coastal stronghold of Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city.

The AKP and its Islamist predecessor have controlled Istanbul and Ankara for 25 years. The results, which were still being tallied and faced appeals, would likely bring personnel changes at the highest ranks of government, according to sources inside and close to the AKP.


In Istanbul, the county’s largest city, the CHP mayoral candidate was more than 25,000 votes ahead of his AKP opponent as the last votes were being counted, according to the country’s electoral board and CHP data.

But AKP Istanbul provincial head, Bayram Senocak, said voting irregularities had had an impact on the outcome and insisted that Erdogan’s party had won.

In Ankara, Turkish broadcasters said the CHP candidate had won a clear victory, but the AKP said it would appeal in districts across the city and expected to shift the outcome in its favor.

Erdogan’s ruling alliance, including the nationalist MHP, captured 51.7 percent of the nationwide vote with nearly all votes counted, according to state-owned Anadolu news agency. The turnout was a very high 84.52 percent.

Despite eking out majority support across the country, defeat for Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted party in Ankara was a significant blow for the president. The possibility of losing Istanbul, where he launched his political career and served as mayor in the 1990s, was an even greater shock.

The Turkish lira, which swung wildly https://tmsnrt.rs/2CEaO11 in the week ahead of the elections echoing last year’s currency crisis, weakened on Monday as much as 2.5 percent against the dollar before recovering early losses.

An AKP official and a source close to the party predicted a cabinet shuffle or other changes among those around Erdogan, especially given the loss in Istanbul.

“There will certainly be changes in some places, such Erdogan’s close circle in the party and the cabinet,” said the official, who requested anonymity. “Markets expect that there will be a change in the cabinet. This makes a change necessary.”

(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Ece Toksabay, Tulay Karadeniz and Nevzat Devranoglu in Ankara, and Daren Butler, Ali Kucukgocmen, Behiye Selin Taner, Ceyda Caglayan, Ebru Tuncay and Ezgi Erkoyun in Istanbul, and Karin Strohecker in London; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Gareth Jones)

In first vote since Turkey’s crisis, Erdogan could lose capital city

A stallholder reads a newspaper as he waits for customers at a bazaar in Ankara, Turkey, March 26, 2019. Picture taken March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

By Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay

ANKARA (Reuters) – Ismail Akin has voted for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s party for almost 20 years, but the father of three said that will change on Sunday because the plunging economy has forced him to shut his shop and take on debt.

In a market in the Turkish capital last week, Akin clutched his jacket and said “even this is mortgaged” after the economy tipped into recession following last year’s currency crisis.

“We voted for this man (Erdogan) for 20 years. Enough. Let’s hit him with the back of our hand so he sees what this nation is made of,” Akin said.

He said he would vote for the main opposition candidate in Sunday’s local elections.

Polls suggest Erdogan could be defeated in Ankara, the city from which he has ruled Turkey with an increasingly iron grip since 2003. His AK Party (AKP) could hang on to power in a tight race in Istanbul, where he was once mayor, but a defeat in Ankara would be a blow.

“The psychological factor of losing the capital, losing one of the big cities in Turkey, could be perceived by voters as the beginning of the decline,” said political analyst Murat Yetkin.

The nationwide local elections are the first since last year’s currency meltdown, and come as authorities fight a fresh wave of selling in the lira.

The currency has bounced back this week, in part because Turkey directed its banks to withhold lira liquidity in London, a key overseas market, until after Sunday’s election – blocking foreign investors from betting against the currency.

The stop-gap measure may save Erdogan the embarrassment of a currency meltdown on the eve of voting but economists say that longer-lasting reforms are needed to return to the strong growth which was a hallmark of the AKP’s early years in power.

AKP officials say they are anxious about Sunday’s vote. In recent weeks Erdogan has held up to five rallies per day and described the elections as a “matter of survival”.

Interviews in Ankara with more than 50 voters two weeks ahead of the vote suggested several long-time AKP supporters were shifting their views on the party and looking to punish Erdogan for the turmoil caused by the ailing economy.

“There is no production, nothing. They brought in the food stands, but will he (Erdogan) fix the economy with food stands?” said Orhan Akkaya, a local business manager who said he would no longer back AKP.

“They finished the country.”


Ahead of the elections, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) formed an electoral alliance with the IYI (Good) Party to rival that of Erdogan’s AKP and the nationalist MHP.

Mansur Yavas, the opposition candidate, appears to hold a 2 percentage point lead over his AKP rival Mehmet Ozhaseki, according to polling company Gezici. However, a poll conducted by the AKP showed Ozhaseki had closed the gap and gained a 1.5 point advantage, a party source said.

Yavas was also the CHP’s candidate in 2014, but lost in a vote marred by claims of voter fraud. Ozhaseki, a former three-term mayor from central Anatolia, was a minister until he was removed from the post after last year’s presidential and general elections cemented Erdogan’s grip on power.

Speaking to Reuters on his campaign trail, Yavas said he believed he would win in Ankara because his rival had overlooked the economic struggles of the people.

“They don’t see the economic hardships in Ankara,” he said. “They don’t come here and talk with shop owners.”

While Erdogan, championed by more pious Turks, has become modern Turkey’s most popular leader, he is also the most divisive. Secular Turks say his policies quash dissent and infringe on private lives and personal rights.

But it was his unorthodox economic policies, including a buildup in foreign debt, that helped spark last year’s crisis that wiped some 30 percent off the value of the lira. The contraction in the fourth quarter was the economy’s worst in nearly a decade.

“What we expected didn’t happen in the economy, that is a reality,” an AKP official told Reuters. “While the economy was a gain before, it’s now our weak point.”

“If there is a big loss (in Ankara)…we may enter a period where there will be very serious problems for the AK Party.”

People shop in a second-hand bazaar in Ankara, Turkey, March 27, 2019. Picture taken March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

People shop in a second-hand bazaar in Ankara, Turkey, March 27, 2019. Picture taken March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas


Murat Gezici, chairman of pollster Gezici, said three of every four undecided voters have backed the MHP or AKP in past general or local elections.

The fraying economy had left many of them unsure, Gezici said citing his company’s March 16-17 poll, and added that rather than the AKP’s past successes, voters were more focused on candidates’ future promises.

“Maybe I won’t even vote, that’s how fed up I am,” said Huseyin Kilic, another longtime but disenchanted AKP voter.

Sacked from his factory job and waving in the air coins that he said were his last, Kilic, standing in a street market in the central Ankara district of Ulus, said he had not yet settled on a favored candidate.

Yet few are writing off Erdogan before votes are counted.

In nearly two decades he and his AKP have not lost a local election in Ankara or Istanbul. The party is leading polls in other big cities like Adana and Konya.

Shopping for vegetables in central Ankara, Neriman said she remained committed to the AK Party, dismissing economic woes.

“They (the AKP) gave us everything, financially and emotionally. There are no economic troubles. Are there?” she said. “I am planning on voting for the AK Party because for years we’ve been so much better off.”

($1 = 5.5652 liras)

(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun and Mert Ozkan; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Anna Willard)

Turkey could stage fresh election if alliance loses parliament: Erdogan ally

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during an election rally in Ankara, Turkey, June 9, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey could stage another election if the alliance between President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party and the nationalist MHP party cannot form a majority in parliament after Sunday’s vote, the MHP leader said.

Turks will vote on June 24 in presidential and parliamentary elections that will herald a switch to a new powerful executive presidency narrowly approved in a referendum last year.

Polls suggest Erdogan’s alliance could narrowly lose its parliamentary majority, while the presidential vote may also go to a second round run-off.

FILE PHOTO: Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli addresses his party MPs during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas//File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli addresses his party MPs during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas//File Photo

Devlet Bahceli, chairman of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) who backed Erdogan in the referendum, said another set of early elections could be on the agenda if the presidency and parliament struggle to work together after Sunday’s vote.

Speaking in an interview on private news channel NTV late on Monday, Bahceli said that the referendum granted either the president or parliament the authority to call for snap elections when there was a “blockage” – for example if Erdogan won the presidency but his party fell short of a parliamentary majority.

“When the presidency and parliament come to the point where they can’t work in unison, there are ways out of this under the constitutional changes and they are carried out. For example, an … early election could be considered,” he said.

Bahceli played a pivotal role in moving Sunday’s elections forward more than a year when he called on the government to declare snap elections in April. Erdogan set the election date for the June 24 votes after a meeting with Bahceli.

Under the constitutional changes, which will go into effect following the elections, the number of lawmakers in parliament will increase to 600 from 550. Officials from the AK Party, which has enjoyed a parliamentary majority until now, have said they aim to receive at least 300 seats in the assembly.

Throughout his election campaign, Erdogan has stressed the importance of a “strong parliament”, saying the decision to support him for the presidency but not the AK Party was a “disturbing attempt”.

The composition of the assembly could depend on Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition, which has significant backing in the country’s largely Kurdish southeast.

If the party passes a 10 percent threshold needed to enter parliament, it could win dozens of seats in parliament. If it fails, the seats will go to the second most popular party in the region, almost certainly guaranteeing a majority for the AKP.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Erdogan’s ‘crazy’ canal alarms villagers and environmentalists

A general view shows the village of Sazlibosna in Istanbul, Turkey, April 16, 2018. Picture taken April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

By Ali Kucukgocmen

SAZLIBOSNA, Turkey (Reuters) – When residents of Sazlibosna, a village near Istanbul, tried to attend a public meeting about the Turkish government’s plan to dig a 400 metre-wide canal through their farmlands, they were stopped by police.

The 45 km (28 mile) Kanal Istanbul will link the seas north and south of Istanbul and ease traffic on the Bosphorus strait, a major global shipping lane. It will also redraw the map of one of Europe’s biggest cities, turning its western side into an island.

Critics, including the national architects association, have questioned the need for the canal and warned it will destroy an 8,500-year-old archaeological site near Istanbul and cause widespread environmental damage.

Real estate agent Murat Ozcelik talks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Kayabasi district in Istanbul, Turkey, April 16, 2018. Picture taken April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

Real estate agent Murat Ozcelik talks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Kayabasi district in Istanbul, Turkey, April 16, 2018. Picture taken April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

The experience of the Sazlibosna villagers illustrates how the government has shut them out of an enterprise that could displace thousands. Estimated to cost around $16 billion, the canal is one of the most ambitious of President Tayyip Erdogan’s infrastructure mega-schemes. He has publicly referred to it as his “crazy project”.

When the villagers, who described themselves as Erdogan supporters, arrived for the meeting in March in western Istanbul – a session intended to allow the public to voice concerns and learn about the project – they were met by police carrying rifles and tear gas who said the hall was full.

It was – with workers who told Reuters they had been bussed in from another government mega-project. The villagers were stuck outside the hearing, in a crowd of more than a hundred people, including environmentalists, who were also not let in.

“The owners of these lands need to be inside,” said Oktay Teke, Sazlibosna’s local administrator, as he stood with the villagers outside the Arnavutkoy municipal building where the meeting was underway.

“If land is going to be expropriated, it will be our land – we will lose our homes.”

A Reuters reporter saw dozens of men leave the hall and board buses after the meeting. When approached, three said they were workers from Istanbul’s giant new airport, which opens in October at the northern end of the planned canal.

“Projects at the airport are about to be finished. This (canal) is a job opportunity for us,” one said, without giving his name.

The spokesman for the Arnavutkoy municipality, Fatih Sanlav, said only a limited number of people were unable to enter the meeting, and no workers were bussed in to fill the hall.


In a decade and a half in power, Erdogan and his ruling AK Party have built roads, trains and hospitals and improved the lives of millions of lower-income, pious Turks. Under a state of emergency in effect since after a 2016 coup attempt, he has also overseen a sweeping crackdown against opponents.

Erdogan says the canal will take the pressure off the Bosphorus and prevent accidents there. He says “mega-projects”, such as Istanbul’s third airport, are major contributors to the economy.

Yet there is concern about overdevelopment. A protest in 2013 against plans to redevelop Istanbul’s Gezi park turned into a major anti-government uprising.

The Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) criticized the canal as an environmental and urban “disaster” which should be abandoned.

Some 369,000 people live in the area that could be impacted by the canal, according to the Turkish Data Analysis Centre, a research company.

The canal will destroy archaeological sites around the Kucukcekmece lagoon that date back to 6,500 BC and provide the earliest evidence of the Hittites in Thrace, TMMOB said. The lagoon’s ecosystem, vital for marine animals and migratory birds, will also be destroyed.

The canal will demolish two basins that provide nearly a third of Istanbul’s fresh water and will increase the salinity of underground water streams, affecting agricultural land as far away as the neighboring Thrace region, TMMOB said.

The project will increase oxygen levels in the Black Sea, impacting the wildlife population, it said.

Three groups of artificial islands will be built just offshore in the Sea of Marmara from the earth dug for the canal, which environmentalists say will cause pollution there.

The Environment Ministry did not respond to requests for comment. The Transport Ministry and Cinar Engineering, the company tasked with compiling an environmental impact report, declined to comment.

While the Bosphorus is difficult to navigate, shipping companies do not need a new canal, said Cihangir Inanc of shipping agent GAC Shipping, adding it would be “more realistic” for the government to improve the strait.

Nearly 43,000 ships passed through the Bosphorus in 2017, down a quarter from a decade ago, although ships today are much bigger, according to government data. Traffic on the Bosphorus was nearly three times that of the Suez Canal.


On the banks of Sazlidere dam, Sazlibosna is surrounded by rolling hills and green fields of grazing sheep and cattle. The canal will cut through that land, as well as land around nearly two dozen different villages and neighborhoods.

At the local tea house, villagers fear the government will compulsorily purchase land that has been in their families for generations and pay less than the market value.

Their concerns are fueled by a similar experience 20 years ago, when the government expropriated land to build the dam, paying below market value and devastating local farms.

“We had around 3,000 cattle then, we have 300 now,” Teke, the administrator, said.

Villagers fear the canal will destroy what remains of their agricultural land.

“Once this happens, there won’t be any husbandry or farming left. I’m going to have to stop farming, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” said one villager, who grows barley, wheat, maize and sunflowers.

Teke said he wrote to Erdogan, the prime minister, and to government offices asking for more information about what will happen, but to no avail.

Erdogan has promised to hold the tender for the canal soon, saying it will be built no matter what.

“Whether they want it or not, we will build Kanal Istanbul,” he said.

(Editing by David Dolan and Giles Elgood)

New Turkish party could cost Erdogan support, dislodge main opposition

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a conference in Ankara, Turkey, November 1, 2017.

By Gulsen Solaker

ANKARA(Reuters) – A new Turkish political party founded by a former minister and vocal critic of Tayyip Erdogan could cost the president crucial support and potentially unseat the main opposition, a poll suggested on Wednesday.

The survey by prominent polling firm Gezici showed that the Iyi Parti (“Good Party”), founded this month by the breakaway nationalist lawmaker Meral Aksener, could mark a dramatic shift in Turkish politics, eclipsing the secular CHP that dominated Turkish politics for large parts of the republic’s history.

While only five members of the 550-seat parliament have joined Aksener’s party, the survey suggested it could win over voters from several parties, including Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party as well as secular or nationalist groups.

Although Turkey’s next elections are not due until 2019, pollster Gezici asked 4,638 respondents how they would vote in the event of a snap election.

Support for Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, which has been in power since 2002, would fall to 43.8 percent, from 49.5 percent in the November 2015 parliamentary polls, the survey showed.

Aksener’s party would win 19.5 percent of the vote, beating the secularist People’s Republican Party’s (CHP) 18.5 percent, it showed. That would mark the first time since 2002 elections that the CHP – established by Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – was not the main opposition.

The CHP won 25 percent of votes in 2015.

The nationalist MHP, where Aksener previously served as a lawmaker and interior minister, and the pro-Kurdish HDP were both seen falling below the 10 percent threshold needed to enter the 550-seat parliament.

The MHP was seen polling at 8.8 percent, from 11.9 in 2015. The HDP, whose leaders have been jailed in the crackdown that followed last year’s failed coup, was seen taking 7.0 percent, from 10.8 in 2015.



Gezici was one of the most accurate pollsters on the results of April’s referendum to change the constitution.

The poll was conducted between Oct. 10-15, days before the widely expected announcement of the formation of the Iyi Parti. Respondents were asked to choose from a list of potential political parties, including “Aksener’s party”.

Aksener was expelled last year from the nationalist MHP, the smallest of three opposition parties in parliament, after launching a failed bid to unseat party leader Devlet Bahceli, whose support helped Erdogan to a narrow victory in the April referendum that expanded his authority.

Since her expulsion, the 61-year-old has become one of the most prominent voices in the country, frequently criticizing Erdogan and the government.

In the case of the Iyi Parti not participating in potential snap elections, the AKP would win just over 47 percent, while the CHP would earn 26.8 percent, the poll showed.

The AKP, founded by Erdogan, has held a majority in parliament for nearly 15 years. After winning almost 50 percent of votes in 2015, Erdogan and party officials said they aimed to win more than half the votes in the coming general elections.



(Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by David Dolan and Raissa Kasolowsky)


Ankara mayor quits in Erdogan purge of local government

Turkey's ruling AK Party (AKP) mayoral candidate and current Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek (C) attends an event as part of his election campaign in Ankara March 18, 2014. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

ANKARA (Reuters) – The mayor of Ankara said on Monday he will step down this week, the fifth mayor from the ruling party to quit in recent weeks in the face of demands for a purge of local politics by President Tayyip Erdogan.

Melih Gokcek, a staunch Erdogan loyalist who has been mayor of Ankara for 23 years and won five consecutive elections, said on Twitter on Monday that he would leave office on Saturday, after meeting with Erdogan at the presidential palace.

Four other mayors from the ruling party have already stepped down in recent weeks, including Istanbul’s Mayor Kadir Topbas, following demands that they resign from Erdogan, who says he is seeking a renewal of his ruling AK Party.

“Three mayors from our party have handed in their resignations so far, and there are three more. I believe they will hand theirs in as soon as possible,” Erdogan told a news conference in Ankara last week before Gokcek and one other mayor resigned.

Erdogan decision to target the mayors follows his narrow victory in a referendum to grant himself sweeping powers last year, which was more popular with rural than urban voters. Seventeen of the country’s 30 largest cities voted against it.

Since then, Erdogan has spoken of the need for renewal in local government and the ruling AK Party, citing signs of “metal fatigue” within administrations.

Gokcek, generally regarded as a staunch Erdogan loyalist, is well known in Turkey for tweets in which he has engaged in spats with journalists and with other senior members of the AKP.

In February he suggested the U.S.-based cleric blamed by Erdogan for a failed coup last year might be plotting an earthquake, with the help of foreign powers.


(Writing by Ece Toksabay; editing by Peter Graff)


Turkish government extends state of emergency rule for another 3 months

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan chairs a National Security Council meeting in Ankara, Turkey, July 17, 2017

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey on Monday extended emergency rule for another three months, almost a year after it was imposed in the wake of last July’s failed military coup.

The government asked parliament to extend it for a fourth time and the proposal was approved by the assembly, where President ‘s AK Party has a comfortable majority.

The extension followed weekend ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the abortive coup in which around 250 people, mostly unarmed civilians, were killed.

Since emergency rule was imposed on July 20 last year, more than 50,000 people have been arrested and 150,000 people have been suspended in a crackdown which Erdogan’s opponents say has pushed Turkey on a path to greater authoritarianism.

The government says the purge is necessary to confront security challenges facing Turkey and to root out supporters of the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen who it says was behind the coup attempt. Gulen has denied any involvement.

Speaking at parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli said the emergency rule had helped created the necessary legal environment to cleanse the state of Gulen’s network.

“All of those in the state’s high levels have been dismissed, but there are still hidden people,” Canikli said. In a series of public ceremonies to mourn people killed in the coup attempt and celebrate those who thwarted it, Erdogan defiantly stepped up his condemnation of the European Union and said he would bring back the death penalty if parliament approved it.

Ties with the West were strained when European governments voiced alarm at the scale of the crackdown. Another 7,000 police, civil servants and academics were dismissed last week according to a decree published on Friday.


(Reporting by Orhan Coskun and Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Dominic Evans and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Alison Williams)


Turkish PM says finalizing constitutional change to bolster Erdogan powers

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey,

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s ruling AK Party is finalizing plans to formally cement President Tayyip Erdogan’s powers by creation of an executive presidency and will meet the nationalist opposition to iron out details, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Tuesday.

Erdogan has long sought constitutional change to strengthen what had been in the past a largely ceremonial position. Unrivalled in popularity, he has turned the presidency into a powerful vehicle for his ambitions, bolstered since a failed July military coup by imposition of emergency rule.

To achieve the majority needed in parliament to trigger a referendum on the issue, the AKP needs the support of the nationalist MHP party.

“We will meet one more time with (MHP leader Devlet) Bahceli and give this (constitutional) change its final shape,” Yildirim told a parliamentary meeting of his party.

Earlier, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Bahceli said “significant progress” had been made in their talks and he believed the bill could be sent to the constitutional commission once “one or two” issues are overcome.

Officials who have seen a draft of the reform told Reuters earlier this month that Erdogan could govern Turkey until 2029 under the proposal.

Erdogan’s supporters argue Turkey needs a strong executive presidency, akin to the system in the United States or France, to avoid fragile coalition governments that hampered development in the past. The country also faces threats from war across the border in Syria and Iraq and turmoil following the coup bid.

Opponents fear it will bring increasing authoritarianism to a country already under fire from Western allies over its deteriorating record on rights and freedoms.

The head of parliament’s constitutional commission, AKP’s Mustafa Sentop, said his party would submit the constitutional reform draft to parliament within two weeks, Dogan news agency reported.

“We will present a constitutional change for our people’s approval in a referendum in the spring months,” he told a university conference in northwest Turkey on Monday.

(Reporting by Ercan Gurses and Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by David Dolan)

Erdogan could govern until 2029 under plans to change constitution

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan adjusts earphones during a news conference in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China,

By Ercan Gurses and Orhan Coskun

ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan could govern Turkey until 2029 with expanded executive powers under proposals the ruling AK Party hopes will go to a referendum next spring, officials who have seen the latest draft told Reuters on Wednesday.

Erdogan and his supporters argue Turkey needs the strong leadership of an executive presidency, akin to the system in the United States or France, to avoid the fragile coalition governments that hampered its development in the past.

Opponents see the proposed change as a vehicle for Erdogan’s ambition, and fear it will bring increasing authoritarianism to a country already under fire from Western allies over its deteriorating record on rights and freedoms, especially after widespread purges in the wake of a failed military coup in July.

The AKP, founded by Erdogan a decade and a half ago, is aiming to hold a referendum on the issue next spring and is seeking support from the nationalist MHP opposition order to win parliamentary approval for such a vote.

Under the latest draft, presented to the MHP on Tuesday, Erdogan could assume the position of “acting” executive president immediately after the referendum if the changes are approved. A presidential election would then be held, as scheduled, when his term expires in 2019.

Under the constitution’s current two-term limit and provided he wins the 2019 election, Erdogan would be able to rule until 2024 only. But under the proposed executive presidency, the clock would reset, allowing him another two terms.

“We have come to a conclusion in our work on constitutional changes and will bring it to the parliament in the coming days,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told a conference of AKP provincial heads in Ankara on Wednesday, without giving details.

“We will continue to seek a base for consensus with the other parties. After that, the decision lies with the people.”

According to two senior officials who have seen the draft, the president would be eligible to serve a maximum of two five-year terms and would be able to issue presidential decrees on most executive matters without the need to consult parliament.

The president would have up to two deputies and would directly appoint the heads of the military and intelligence agencies, university rectors, senior bureaucrats, and some top judicial bodies, expanding the powers of the role, the officials said.


Such changes would likely alarm the European Union, which has been critical of the post-coup attempt crackdown.

Turkey, which aspires to join the EU, has dismissed or detained more than 110,000 civil servants, members of the security forces and other officials in a crackdown it says is justified by the gravity of the threat from the July 15 putsch.

Erdogan has ridden a wave of nationalist support since the abortive coup, vowing to crack down on Turkey’s enemies at home and abroad, and support from the MHP will be vital for realizing his ambition of a stronger presidency.

MHP leader Devlet Bahceli has indicated his party could support the reforms and said on Tuesday that party lawyers were assessing the AKP’s latest draft.

Any constitutional change needs the support of at least 367 deputies in the 550-seat assembly to pass directly, and of 330 to go to a referendum. The AKP has 317 seats, and the MHP 39.

Other opposition parties oppose a stronger presidency.

Erdogan, speaking at a press conference before leaving for an official visit to Pakistan on Wednesday, said the executive president should not have to cut ties to his political party.

Under the current constitution, the head of state is supposed to be impartial and renounce party ties as part of a system of checks and balances. Erdogan’s comments suggest he could seek to resume leadership of the AKP, by far Turkey’s largest political movement, if elected in 2019.

(Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Raissa Kasolowsky)