May 24, 2016 / 2:58 PM / 3 years ago

Turk opposition party to hold congress in possible setback for Erdogan

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s nationalist opposition said on Tuesday it would hold an extraordinary congress aimed at resolving a leadership dispute, a move that could dash President Tayyip Erdogan’s ambitions of winning greater powers.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli addresses his supporters during an election rally for Turkey's June 7 parliamentary election, in Istanbul, Turkey May 31, 2015. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File Photo

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.

Earlier on Tuesday Turkey’s Court of Appeals unanimously approved a local court ruling allowing the MHP to go ahead with its party congress.

MHP deputy chairman Semih Yalcin said the party respected the court’s decision and proposed June 26 or July 10 for the congress to be held. He added that Bahceli, who has led the MHP for much of the past two decades, would seek re-election.

Turkey’s ruling AK Party has been hoping for MHP support in parliament to change the constitution and introduce an executive presidential system or, as an interim measure, a system whereby the head of state is allowed to retain his party ties.

Erdogan founded the AK Party more than a decade ago and served as party leader and prime minister until 2014 when he became Turkey’s first directly elected president. He has already transformed the role, largely ceremonial under the existing constitution, into a much more active one but is still keen to turn it into a full presidential system.

“The MHP will no longer be irrelevant in Turkish politics,” said Sinan Ogan, one of four leaders of a revolt within the party. Another leader is former interior minister Meral Aksener, Bahceli’s main challenger for the MHP leadership.

“Once the MHP completes its change it will be a movement that will dominate Turkish politics,” Ogan told CNN Turk television.

The MHP rebels are opposed to Erdogan’s plans for an executive presidency.

Erdogan hopes that Bahceli keeps his post, thereby hitting support for the MHP in an early parliamentary election political analysts say could take place later this year and ensuring a big enough majority for the AK Party to change the constitution.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Gareth Jones

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