Erdogan's AKP gets local election boost from nationalists

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s nationalist MHP will support President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party candidates in local elections in three key cities next year, the MHP leader said on Saturday, in a boost to the AKP’s election prospects.

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during his meeting with mukhtars at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, November 21, 2018. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

The AK Party and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) formed an alliance before presidential elections last June, but were subsequently at loggerheads over a disagreement about the MHP’s call for an amnesty for some jailed criminals.

A month ago MHP leader Devlet Bahceli said his party would not seek an alliance with the AK Party in the March 2019 municipal elections which are being held across Turkey.

At the time his comments triggered a weakening of the lira over concerns that it would lead to political instability.

However, Bahceli announced a change of position on Saturday saying the MHP would not put forward city mayoral candidates for Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, Turkey’s three biggest cities.

“Whoever the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) candidates are in these three big cities our support will be total,” Bahceli told officials from his party in a speech in Antalya.

The MHP’s candidates in other municipalities across Turkey would continue to stand, he said, adding there was no “secret agreement” behind his party’s decision.

It was not clear what prompted the change in Bahceli’s position.

Bahceli and his MHP party had been staunch critics of Erdogan’s AK Party before they reached agreement on their election alliance this year. Their alliance had been expected to continue despite last month’s decision not to cooperate in the local elections.

The local elections themselves will have little impact on the balance of power in Turkey generally.

Under the presidential system ushered in by the June elections, Erdogan already wields extensive power. However his AK Party requires the support of MHP lawmakers to achieve a majority and push through legislation in parliament.

Reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Clelia Oziel