Turkish press focus on opposition leadership contest - media roundup

Sunday Jul. 15 marked the second anniversary of the failed 2016 coup attempt, in which factions in the Turkish military allegedly aligned with Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen killed hundreds of citizens across the country as they sought to overthrow the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

The majority of government-friendly newspapers carried almost identical front pages on Monday, with an image of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan transposed over another of the huge crowds gathered on Sunday at the 15 July Martyrs’ Bridge in Istanbul, named to honour the fallen citizens on the day of the coup attempt.

Sabah’s front line, “Let the world see, and traitors be afraid,” captured a dominant feeling of the day – a mixture of triumph and antagonism frequently projected by pro-government circles since the coup attempt was foiled.

The front page of Aydınlık, a newspaper affiliated with the left-wing nationalist Patriotic Party, lamented presidential decrees that have more firmly tied the military to the government, linking the general staff to the defence ministry and naming a Supreme Military Council with only four soldiers to eight civilian members.

The secularist newspaper Cumhuriyet’s front page likewise took aim at the reshaping of government institutions by presidential decree more broadly, calling the new system a “palace state.”

Jul. 9 marked the start of Turkey’s transition from a parliamentary system of government to an executive presidency, and Erdoğan has busily propagated presidential decrees, one of the new powers granted to him under the new system, to reshape the state.

Cumhuriyet conveyed concerns by opposition figures that the rapid centralisation of authorities under Erdoğan could pave the way to serious political crises.

Star, a pro-AKP daily, ran a headline on Tuesday attacking credit rating agencies Moody’s, Fitch, and Standard and Poor, which according to a commonly held theory in Turkey have downgraded the country’s rating not due to the widely acknowledged risks posed by its economy, but at the behest of unfriendly “global powers.”

The newspaper listed four economic achievements – a decrease in unemployment and private sector debt, an increase in industrial output and large growth in automobile exports, which it called “four blows” to the credit rating agencies.

The left-wing newspaper BirGün led on Tuesday with news on the greatly expanded powers to be held by the country’s 81 provincial governors, unelected officials who are chosen by and directly linked to President Erdoğan.

The new authorities, which were handed to the governors by presidential decree, include the right to restrict access to the areas under their jurisdiction.

Cumhuriyet’s headline reported on a group within the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) which has begun collecting signatures from delegates in order to set in motion a party congress.

The group consists of party members close to Muharrem İnce, the party’s presidential candidate in the Jun. 24 elections. The congress will allow İnce to challenge for the party’s leadership, a step seen by many as necessary after his performance at the elections far outstripped that of the current party head, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

Many of Turkey’s large contingent of pro-government newspapers devoted their front pages on Wednesday to the “good news” of a bill prepared to allow Turkish men over 25 years old to avoid the currently compulsory military service, which lasts at least six months, instead paying 15,000 lira and serving up to 28 days.

Liberal Islamist daily Karar’s front page took aim at the German government, which it accused of standing in the way of Turkey’s investigation into the Gülen movement and coup attempt.

The German government had refused to respond to questions on the nature of its dealings with Gülenists on the grounds that this would be to its detriment, creating a “Berlin wall” obstructing the search for the truth, said Karar.

Cumhuriyet’s front page carried news from the Economic Police Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), which has published data showing a marked increase in Turkish investment capital flowing abroad.

With this increase, in May this year the rate of investment outside Turkey has increased faster than the foreign investment coming into the country, according to TEPAV’s data.

Pro-government newspaper Takvim led on Thursday with news of CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s travails, which it reported “in numbers.”

On the one hand, the CHP head is facing a serious challenge from İnce, whose supporters Takvim reported had gathered over 500 of the 625 delegates’ signatures required to force a party congress.

On the other, Kılıçdaroğlu will have to pay 359,000 lira, or $74,000, in damages to members of President Erdoğan’s family for saying they had sent millions of dollars offshore to companies in the Isle of Man.

The case was opened against Kılıçdaroğlu after he revealed documents that he said proved the money transfers during a speech in parliament.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s lawyer, Celal Çelik, reportedly stormed out of the court in disgust when the verdict was read.

Aydınlık’s Thursday front page proudly proclaimed Turkey to be the “peak” of anti-NATO sentiment, citing a survey by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center that found the Turkish public to be most firmly against the alliance of any member nation.

The newspaper, which is known for its consistent anti-NATO and anti-U.S. line, added that 74 percent of Turks described the United States as the greatest threat to Turkey and 79 percent viewed the country negatively.

Pro-Erdoğan daily Yeni Şafak’s front page on Friday conveyed its striking “Aleppo claim” that Turkey has discussed a deal with Russia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to take control of Syria’s second largest city.

Yeni Şafak’s source is Fuat Aliko, a member of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, who said the Syrian conflict would shortly enter a period of diplomatic struggle, and that Turkey’s proposed deal would see Syrian regime forces and their Shi’ite militant allies leave Aleppo, Idlib and Hama to Turkish control, including rebuilding efforts.

Another story with wide coverage on pro-government dailies were the Israeli government’s legislation declaring Israel the “nation-state of the Jewish people” and removing Arabic as an official language.

Erdoğan and the ruling party are well-known for the leadership role they have assumed among Muslim nations in supporting the Palestinian cause, and the latest move by Israel was greeted with anger from Turkish officials and the public.

Cumhuriyet led on Friday with the news that one of the paper’s reporters, Canan Coşkun, has been sentenced to two years and three months in prison for reporting in September 2017 on the detention of 20 lawyers who were accused of being members of an outlawed far-left organisation.

The newspaper pointed out the double standards evident in the Coşkun ruling, which saw a critical newspaper’s journalist imprisoned for reporting the same news and photographs that pro-government newspapers and the state-run Anadolu Agency had published without charge.