Erdogan opponent launches new political party in Turkey

AFP , Wednesday 25 Oct 2017

A Turkish former interior minister once dubbed Turkey's Iron Lady and seen as a potentially strong challenger to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched a political party Wednesday after months of speculation.

Meral Aksener delivered a defiant speech promising a "strong, happy" Turkey at the official launch of the Iyi ("Good") Party in the capital Ankara.

"We have hope. We have dreams. We want a rich Turkey. We have strength. We want a fair Turkey... we want a free society. We want a happy Turkey," she said during a spirited address to an audience waving Turkish flags.

She was cheered by thousands of supporters and founding party members in a hall surrounded by the party's blue and yellow sun logo and banners of modern Turkey founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The party's slogan is "Turkey will be good".

Aksener, 61, was a member of the opposition right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) until she was expelled in September 2016.

There has been frenzied talk of Aksener running against Erdogan in the presidential election in November 2019 when Turkey's parliamentary system will formally become an executive presidency.

"The emergence of a new party is a positive thing because Turkey really had a drought of effective opposition parties for many, many years," Amanda Paul, senior policy analyst covering Turkey and the Eurasia region at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre, said.

"It seems that this party has the potential to be more effective than the ones that already exist."

Selim Sazak, a Turkish political analyst, said he was "greatly" sceptical of Aksener's chances of becoming president in 2019.

Aksener is a rare dominant female figure in the Turkish political scene, where only two women are part of the cabinet.

Aksener has been described as Turkey's Iron Lady in a nod to the late British premier Margaret Thatcher but has also been compared to the French National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

She served as interior minister for less than a year between 1996 and 1997, but was notably critical of the 1997 ousting of the then Islamist government by the military.

Aksener was in fact close to figures from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the early 2000s before choosing the MHP.

Aksener and her allies encountered difficulties finding a venue for the launch after a hotel in Ankara last month cancelled an agreement to host her.

There was heavy security at the launch on Wednesday.



After audience chants of "prime minister", Aksener said "not prime minister, president!"

She then said founding members wanted her to run against Erdogan in 2019 but did not say she would definitely do so.

A lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Aytun Ciray, resigned on Monday to join Aksener's new party, which came as reports suggested she wanted to form a parliamentary group with MPs who are prepared to switch their allegiance. Aksener has denied the reports.

The party's supporters believe it can win over both CHP and AKP voters.

But experts said more time was needed to see what voters made of the new party.

"It's really unclear at the moment... and I don't expect an easy end result," said Kemal Can, a veteran Turkish commentator, adding that an "important chunk" of MHP voters could be attracted to the new party.

Paul said Aksener's weakest link would be Kurdish voters because "historically she has had a hawkish approach to the Kurdish issue" referring to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party insurgency in the southeast raging since 1984.

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