Leadership row in Turkey's nationalist opposition helps Erdogan

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s nationalist opposition on Monday blocked a move by party dissidents to hold a special congress next month to try to oust its veteran leader, dragging out a dispute that is key to President Tayyip Erdogan’s ambitions for greater powers.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during a ceremony at the airport in the Kurdish-dominated southeastern city of Diyarbakir, Turkey, May 28, 2016. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

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 court-appointed organizing committee on Monday said the party’s extraordinary congress would take place on June 19.

However, deputy leader Semih Yalcin said the MHP would stick to July 10 as the congress date, set by Bahceli who will seek re-election.

“If the desire is not chaos and if there aren’t different objectives here then everyone should abide by MHP’s decision to hold the congress on July 10,” Yalcin told a news conference in Ankara.

He said Bahceli supporters would not attend the June 19 congress. “To convene a congress without the headquarters would not lead to a legal result.”

Following weeks of legal limbo, the Court of Appeals unanimously approved a local court ruling last week allowing the MHP to go ahead with its party congress.

Erdogan’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.

Reporting by Ercan Gurses and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Daren Butler and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by David Dolan and Richard Balmforth