Michael MacKenzie
May 19 2018

Crumbling disarray within the AKP-MHP bloc -Turkish media weekly

Monday’s headlines reported a disagreement among leaders of the “People’s Alliance,” a coalition set up by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP) ahead of the upcoming Jun. 24 presidential and parliamentary elections.

MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli proposed a general amnesty to be held ahead of the election, a suggestion which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decisively ruled out during a press conference last Sunday.

Centre-left secularist daily newspaper Cumhuriyet’s Ayşe Sayın reported discussion among political circles that the amnesty initiative had originated not with Bahçeli but with high-ranking AKP officials including Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ and Mehmet Uçum, an adviser to president Erdoğan.

Bahçeli’s proposal was in fact an effort to control and limit the boundaries of the amnesty, which could include politicians from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) including its former co-chair and candidate in the upcoming presidential election, Selahattin Demirtaş.

Türkiye newspaper’s headline news reported that the People’s Alliance partners had agreed in the event of a parliamentary victory for an MHP politician to replace İsmail Kahraman in the role of Speaker of Parliament. However, Bahçeli “looked coldly” on the AKP’s refusal to include MHP names on a new cabinet.

Tuesday’s headlines were dominated by the horrific events on Monday in Gaza, where 62 Palestinian protesters were killed and around 3,000 wounded when Israeli soldiers opened fire on them during a demonstration near the security fence around Gaza.

Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu strongly condemned Israel for the massacre on Monday, and Turkish pro-government and critical newspapers followed suit the next day.

Wide-circulation daily Hürriyet led with the headline “Diplomatic massacre,” referring to last Monday’s official opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, a move which acknowledges the city as Israel’s capital and has consequently been interpreted as a symbol of pro-Israel bias from the United States.

The newspaper, owned by pro-government businessman Erdoğan Demirören, printed its first page in black and white to reflect the three days mourning declared by the president. Milliyet and Vatan, both owned by Demirören group, followed suit, as did Sabah, another newspaper that closely follows the government line.

Milliyet ran the simple headline “Massacre,” while Sabah ran “Genocide from Israel” over a full-page image from the massacre.

Left-wing secularist newspaper Sözcü ran front page news of the “Massacre from Israel,” but granted news of MHP deputy Atila Kaya’s criticism of the People’s Alliance a more prominent place. Cumhuriyet, meanwhile, the same news stories on its front page but with its “Massacre in Gaza” piece in a leading position.

Headlines on Wednesday again revolved around fallout from Gaza, with the pro-government Islamist daily Yeni Şafak’s front page headline, “We kicked out their ambassador,” focusing on Turkey’s expulsion of Israeli ambassador Eitan Naeh.

Turkish media outlets were reportedly invited by the government to Istanbul airport where they filmed Naeh as he was subjected to thorough security checks by Turkish security on his way out of the country.

An eye-catching sub-headline in Cumhuriyet on Wednesday raised the question of whether the Turkish state had conducted an internet spyware operation targeting opposition-leaning Turkish citizens.

Bülent Mumay’s news story revealed how a fake website had been set up purporting to allow internet users to follow the 25-day “Justice March” organised by main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to protest the imprisonment of CHP lawmaker Enis Berberoğlu.

Internet users who clicked links to the site, which were published on social media sites by bot accounts, instead downloaded spyware that granted access to their phone calls, WhatsApp and SMS.

Pro-government newspapers were split on Thursday on whether to report news that Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive at the Turkish state-owned HalkBank, had received a 32-month sentence in a sanctions-busting case in the United States that revealed the alleged involvement of high-ranking AKP officials including former economy minister Zafer Çağlayan.

While the majority of pro-government papers ignored the sentence, which came five months after Atilla was found guilty of helping break U.S. sanctions on Iran, Yeni Şafak and Akşam newspapers called the decision a “Scandalous verdict” and described the trial as a conspiracy against Turkey.

Friday’s headlines included a call for pro-Palestinian Turks to “Stand up for Jerusalem.” The story served to publicise a rally scheduled by Erdoğan to be held in Istanbul’s Yenikapı district in support of the Palestinian cause.

The same call took prime position in pro-government newspapers including Türkiye, Hürrriyet, Sabah and Star.

Pro-government newspaper Star reported CHP presidential candidate Muharrem İnce’s promise to close İncirlik, an important U.S. airbase in the south of Turkey, if the United States refuses to extradite Islamist cleric Fethullah Gülen to Turkey.

Turkey blames Gülen, who resides in self-imposed exile in a compound in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, for orchestrating the failed July 2016 coup attempt, and the AKP government says that it has submitted seven extradition requests to the United States for his return.

İnce’s threat to close İncirlik air base was part of a speech during which he took a tough line against the United States, mirroring the incumbent president’s stridently anti-U.S. rhetoric.

Turkey would “do the necessary” if the United States continued to support Syrian-Kurdish groups with links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that has been in armed conflict with Turkish armed forces for decades and is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey and the United States.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.