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Turkish right-wing party dissidents’ bid to oust longtime leader foiled

epa04982602 Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli cheers his supporters during an election campaign rally in Istanbul, Turkey, 18 October 2015. Turkey's general elections will be held 01 November 2015.  EPA/CEM TURKEL

 

Ankara/ AFP

Members of Turkey’s right-wing MHP party were prevented from holding a congress on Sunday aimed at unseating longtime leader Devlet Bahceli and recovering ground lost to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party.
Dissidents from the Nationalist Movement Party launched a campaign to oust Bahceli, 68, after a general election in November in which the party shed half its support—taking just 40 seats in the 550-member parliament compared to 80 five months previously.
Bahceli, who has led the party for 19 years, said in January that the next party congress would take place in 2018, meaning he would be in charge until then.
But polls show MHP members hungry for change, with over 500 signing a petition in support of holding an extraordinary congress to expedite his ouster.
In a show of unity, MHP’s four contenders for leadership, including charismatic former interior minister Meral Aksener, arrived on Sunday near the Ankara hotel—the venue of the congress—in the same vehicle, escorted by hundreds of cars.
But they faced iron barricades, with police stationing water cannon nearby and denied entry into the hotel. “Party congresses not party leaders will have the final say,” the four candidates said in a joint declaration, near the police barricades.
“Turkish democracy and law were trampled upon,” they said.
Party members waving Turkish flags outside the hotel shouted “Bahceli, resign!”.
Replacing Bahceli, who lacks appeal with younger voters, could boost support for the MHP at the expense of Erdogan’s conservative ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The outcome could jeopardise Erdogan’s ambitions of winning a big enough majority in the next elections to allow him to change the constitution to boost his powers.

Party congress in June
Four contenders to succeed Bahceli have emerged, including 59-year-old Aksener, a former deputy speaker of parliament seen as the strongest candidate.
They have vowed to press ahead with the congress, despite the legality of the meeting being called into question and police sealing off the venue.
“There is no such security measure even at the Syrian border,” another dissident candidate Sinan Ogan told reporters. The country’s highest appeal court said this week it will rule on the issue within a month, while two lower courts have issued conflicting decisions.

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