Furious MHP leader backs TV debate for Istanbul rerun candidates

The leader of Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) took aim at the Turkish opposition in an aggressive speech on Wednesday, repeating claims that outlawed organisations are attempting to influence the outcome of elections in Turkey, secularist daily Cumhuriyet reported.

“After these elections are over”, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli said, referring to the March 31 local election and the Istanbul rerun, which is due on June 23, “politicians, scholars, prosecutors and judges who love this country should closely investigate the traps laid for Turkey in the March 31 election and earlier”.

Bahçeli, whose far-right party is in a coalition with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), went on to say that the outlawed Gülen religious movement and militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) were interfering with the election process.

The Turkish authorities blame the Gülen movement for the failed military coup in July 2016. The PKK has waged a decades-long militant campaign for Kurdish self-rule. Both are considered terrorist organisations by the Turkish government.

Bahçeli was instrumental in an aggressive electoral campaign that painted the March 31 local elections as a “matter for survival” for Turkey and painted opposition parties as in league with terrorist groups.

Despite the aggressive campaigning and wall to wall coverage on Turkey’s government-dominated media, the AKP-MHP alliance lost key cities in Turkey including the capital, Ankara, and Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul.

Bahçeli was among the most vocal politicians to call for a rerun of the Istanbul election, after the AKP alleged electoral fraud had taken place. The Supreme Electoral Council accepted the appeal and annulled the election on May 6.

“There’s no point trying to cover up theft with democracy. Votes were stolen, and the national will will be reunited with the stolen votes (in the rerun)”, said Bahçeli.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP)’s victorious March 31 candidate, Ekrem İmamoğlu, will face former AKP prime minister Binali Yıldırım on June 23 for the rerun.

Bahçeli expressed his support for the planned televised debate between the two candidates, saying Yıldırım’s political experience would be enough to gain the upper hand over his rival.