ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has called on mayors of three major cities to resign, including the high-profile mayor of the capital, Ankara, the Hurriyet newspaper reported on Thursday, in a push to revitalize his ruling party ahead of 2019 elections.
The comments mark Erdogan’s most explicit demand yet for a shake-up of veteran politicians - some of whom are nationally prominent - after voters in many cities rejected an April referendum granting him sweeping power.
While Erdogan narrowly won the referendum to change the constitution and create an executive presidency, voters in 17 of Turkey’s 30 largest cities voted against the change. Since then, Erdogan has spoken of the need for renewal in local government and the ruling AK Party, citing signs of “metal fatigue” within administrations.
“People do not take these offices as independent candidates but as candidates shown by parties. We cannot regard these posts as chairs which are kept eternally and never abandoned,” the Hurriyet quoted him as telling reporters on his plane back from a trip to Poland this week.
A request had been conveyed for the resignation of the mayor of Balikesir in northwest Turkey, the newspaper quoted him as saying.
“Likewise, this situation was conveyed to (Ankara Mayor) Melih (Gokcek). The same with Bursa,” he was quoted as saying. Bursa is a city in northwest Turkey.
The mayor of Istanbul has resigned in the last month, as has the mayor of Duzce city in northwest Turkey. The mayor of Nigde city in central Turkey, resigned on Wednesday.
But Gokcek, who has been Ankara mayor since 1994 and won five consecutive elections, has so far stayed in place, despite widespread speculation that we would step down.
Gokcek has avoided addressing the resignation issue and pointedly steered clear of the subject in public when he made an unexpected visit to the presidential palace this month.
“I presented to my president all the project details of the museum to be built opposite the (presidential) palace. I also gave various information about ongoing municipal projects... For the public’s information,” he wrote on Twitter.
Gokcek, generally regarded as a staunch Erdogan loyalist, is well known in Turkey for tweets in which he has engaged in spats with journalists and other senior members of the AKP.
In February he suggested the U.S.-based cleric blamed for last year’s failed coup might be plotting an earthquake, with the help of foreign powers, to damage the economy.
Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by David Dolan