New era begins as Erdogan rejoins AK Party following constitutional referendum
Anew era began on Tuesday when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan became a member of the AK Party, following the approval of constitutional amendments in the April 16 referendum. It is the first step in Turkey’s shift to a partisan presidential system. The second step will be taken on May 21 when the AK Party holds an extraordinary congress to elect Erdogan its chairman.
In his new role, Erdogan will address the AK Party group meeting in parliament on May 23. To be the group leader, Erdogan would need to be a deputy in parliament. As he is not, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim will continue to serve as the chairmain of the AK Party group. Still, there is no obstacle for the president to conduct the group meetings in the parliament. For a few months in 2002 and 2003, when Abdullah Gul was briefly prime minister, Erdogan was not a deputy but he still led the AK Party group meetings in parliament.
AK Party to renew party structures
The party saw its slim margin of victory in the referendum an “early warning” from voters and will spend this year renewing and changing AK Party’s management and organization, officials have said. At the extraordinary congress later this month, it will make significant changes, beginning with provincial and district leadership. The party’s highest decision-making bodies – the central executive board, which has 50 members, and the central executive committee - will be revised.
Another expected change will be a cabinet reshuffle. Erdogan told journalists traveling with him to Russia that no changes were planned for the cabinet nor has there been such a request from Yildirim. Those in the know interpreted these remarks that the change has been postponed until after the extraordinary congress.
Meanwhile, Devlet Bahceli, head of the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), put an end to speculation that his deputies will serve in the cabinet. “This is a totally wrong opinion. What kind of a party is the MHP? Is it some kind of a patch to bridge someone’s gap?” Bahceli said last week, adding his party had not received such an offer.
Sources close to the matter said the MHP would not take part in the cabinet to avoid being seen as accepting a reward for its support for the constitutional amendment. Another claim they make is that Bahceli is unhappy with the the lack of measures being taken to weed out suspected Gulen followers
from political circles. “Even the secret imams can be found out but no politicians?” Bahceli said at his group meeting. Sources said Bahceli does not want to be a part of the government before a cleanup takes place, worried that a negative reaction from the MHP base would grow.
MHP to support AK Party in parliament
Still, the collaboration between the MHP and AK Party that began with the constitutional amendments will continue in the coming period, sources said. The MHP will support the ruling party as it makes adjustments to internal regulation and laws that must be passed within six months of the referendum. The MHP will also continue to support the fight against the Gulenist organization and the armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
The MHP will bring forward its provincial congresses to this month, instead of June. The party’s extraordinary congress is to be held in March 2018, although it may hold it in November, considering the possibility of an early election.
The main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), has been stirred up by a call by its former chairman Deniz Baykal to the current leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, to either be a candidate in the 2019 presidential election or resign his post. Baykal’s remarks were widely seen as an effort to position himself as a presidential candidate, but sources said that would find little resonance with voters who opposed the referendum.
Another CHP deputy, Fikret Saglar, called for an immediate extraordinary congress and accused Kilicdaroglu of monopolizing the party. The remarks, made to a pro-government newspaper, annoyed CHP leadership, and the party spokesman said Saglar would face disciplinary action.
“I’ll kick the ones who fight within the party to the curb,”Kilicdaroglu said in response to Saglar’s assertions. He also rejected Baykal’s statement that the CHP chairman should be the presidential candidate. “A chairman of a political party should not be president,” he said, adding the party’s authorized bodies would choose the CHP’s candidate.
CHP Vice Chairman Tekin Bingol said the party’s exeuctive committee has decided to begin the process to hold an ordinary party congress. “Our agenda includes a highly broad timeframe,” he said. “We initiated the congress calendar today. As soon as this process finishes, we will determine the date and hold our 36th ordinary congress regarding the results we will present to the caucus. It is not right to initiate a process for an extraordinary congress as we have such an agenda ahead of us. An extraordinary congress is not in our agenda.”
Kilicdaroglu has a strong hand over his party, but internal tensions are expected to continue for a while.