Authorities block vote for new opposition challenger to Turkey's Erdogan

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ANKARA (Reuters) - A Turkish election body said on Monday it had barred opposition nationalists from holding a July 10 vote to replace their veteran leader, disrupting a process that lawmakers said could have picked a stronger challenger to President Tayyip Erdogan.

Opinion polls suggest the removal of Devlet Bahceli as leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) could lead to a surge in support for his party, weakening Erdogan’s chances of securing strong parliamentary support for the introduction of a full presidential system in Turkey.

A group of MHP members have launched a bid to oust Bahceli, 68, whom they see as a dour figure unable to tap into nationalist sentiments that have swollen Erdogan’s popularity. But their campaign had met a series of technical challenges, including the announcement made on Monday.

They were not immediately available for comment, but have in the past accused the president’s palace of interfering in party politics.

The MHP dissidents met on June 19 and voted to re-write a number of party bylaws, including one change that would have allowed them to hold a extraordinary party congress and vote to replace Bahceli.

But Bahceli, who has spent two decades at the helm of the party, said the dissidents had broken party rules by voting through so many bylaw changes at one meeting.

A court agreed with him, invalidating the bylaw changes on Friday. And the election board covering Ankara’s Cankaya district said on Monday that meant MHP members would now not be able to vote to replace their leader at the extraordinary meeting planned for July 10.

Six MHP members want to take over, most prominently Meral Aksener, a 59-year-old woman seen by pollsters as capable of revitalizing the MHP and increasing its support.

Bahceli says the party will not be able to vote for a new leader until its regular congress, planned for 2018.

Reporting by Ercan Gurses and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Andrew Heavens