Turkish opposition MPs switch in challenge to Erdogan

ANKARA: Fifteen Turkish parliamentarians from the main opposition have switched to the fledgling Iyi Party to ensure it can run in snap June elections called by President Tayyip Erdogan, officials from the opposition CHP said on Sunday.

Erdogan this week called the snap parliamentary and presidential polls on June 24, bringing forward the vote by more than a year. The announcement wrongfooted Turkey’s troubled opposition and brings Erdogan closer to his long-sought goal of a more powerful presidency with sweeping executive powers.

His most credible challenge is seen as coming from Meral Aksener, a popular former interior minister who last year founded the nationalist Iyi (Good) Party after splitting with the nationalist MHP, which is supporting Erdogan.

Authorities have yet to rule on whether Aksener’s Iyi Party, which has only five deputies in Parliament, will be able to stand in the parliamentary polls.

With the addition of 15 new deputies from the secularist CHP, the Iyi Party should have the requisite numbers to stand in the polls, CHP officials said.

Parties with 20 or more deputies are recognized as groups in Parliament and then automatically have the right to run candidates. The CHP has 116 members in the 550-seat Parliament after the departures.

The unusual move was necessary to challenge Erdogan, they said. The president is widely seen as the most popular — and divisive — politician in modern Turkish history.

“Our friends will not go down in history as MPs who left their party. They will go down as heroes who saved the democracy following their responsibility to their party,” CHP spokesman Bulent Tezcan told a news conference.

“This is not an easy task to do. It is a hard one. But these days of one-man rule are where we show our strength and ability to accomplish hard tasks.”

There has also been debate about whether the Iyi Party’s convention was held the required six months before voting day.

A masterful campaigner, Erdogan has won nearly a dozen elections and dominated Turkey since his AK party swept to power in 2002.

He is admired by millions for championing the pious Muslim working classes and delivering airports, hospitals and schools during a period of strong economic growth.

His critics say that his rule has grown increasingly authoritarian, pointing to the more than 160,000 people detained since a failed coup in 2016 and the widespread crackdown against the media and opposition parties.

Parliament voted this week to extend the state of emergency in place since the failed coup for another three months, meaning the June 24 vote will also take place under emergency rule.

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