The Turkish defence ministry’s S-400 missile system deal with Russia straining Ankara’s international ties and ongoing partisan tensions over the local elections results were the main stories in last week’s Turkish press coverage.
Turkey’s local Elections – Arguments rumble on
The local election, especially the defeat of the governing AKP in Istanbul, remains a lead story. On April 27th Cumhuriyet headlined, “Some are Seeking a Felony Against the Law”, explaining how a new decision by Turkey's Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) has set the tone for any future challenge to the main opposition’s local elections win in Istanbul. The election watchdog rejected the Justice and Development Party (AKP) appeals seeking to disqualify the election board in the Mustafakemalpaşa district in Bursa province. The AKP is actively seeking to cancel the results of local elections in opposition-won districts and cities by claiming that polling stations and election boards there were illegitimate.
“Neither Rights or Morals Spared”
Milli Gazete on April 29th reported on Hasim Kilic’s view of AKP. Kilic is an unforgettable Turkish figure and former President of the Turkish Constitutional Court, who appears to have changed his opinion of the ruling party. “The AKP came into power with slogans of humility and morals, but have left no room for either morals or rights in the state. They have left no room for honest opposition or anything else,” Kilic said in his review of nearly two decades of AKP rule.
Back in 2007, Kilic ruled in favour of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in a case which demanded dissolving the party under claims of it seeking to undermine the country’s secular establishment. Ironically, it was Kilic’s ruling that allowed the AKP to stay around long enough to rise to power after riding a massing wave of hyper-nationalism in Turkey.
“AKP governing system has severely damaged the state's judicial system—it is preposterous that the Public Sector Tenders Law was amended 186 times,” Kilic added. As a result of his comments the approval of additional appeals by AKP and its allies will create an atmosphere of mistrust towards the election watchdog (the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK)) and will make any future decisions questionable. The AKP candidate’s loss is especially hard for Turkish President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan, who launched his political career in Istanbul as mayor in the 1990s and has triumphed in more than a dozen parliamentary, presidential and local polls since his party came to power in 2002.
“Did the AKP-MHP Alliance Become Overbearing?”
An article in Yeni Asya newspaper on May 2nd explored the roots of AKP’s defeat in Istanbul and Ankara. Under a deal between the Turkish President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the smaller Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the nationalists fielded no mayoral candidate in the capital Ankara or Istanbul in the March 31st vote.
While the Istanbul appeal drags on, the rare defeat has prompted questions within the party over campaign strategy. Although the alliance helped them win a majority of votes nationwide, AKP officials say it has delivered limited benefits. “The MHP gained a lot from this alliance, more than us,” a senior AKP official in Ankara said. Another AKP official said the MHP’s 71-year-old leader Devlet Bahceli, once a staunch critic of Erdogan, was an unpredictable ally. The AKP relies on the MHP for its parliamentary majority, meaning any break in the pact would leave it looking for new partners - a significant challenge after Erdogan’s blistering criticism of his opponents during the election and following his defeats.
“America’s Ultimatum to Turkey: Either the US or Russia”
In an eye-opening interview with Sözcü newspaper on April 29th, the former Turkish Ambassador to the US, Sukru Elekdag revealed the extent of tensions gnawing at Turkey-US ties, especially in the light of Ankara choosing to go forward with the anti-missile S-400 system purchase from Russia.
Elekdag stressed that strained relations between Ankara and Washington are not only caused by the S-400 deal. Despite the purchase’s political and defence sensitivity, the Turkish-American disagreement is at a deeper level and is very complex.
The key reason behind the crisis, according to the former diplomat, is Ankara's geostrategic conduct in recent years and its intensive cooperation with Russia at the expense of NATO. When asked whether Turkey plans to buy the S-400 despite US threats, Elekdag said, “So far, Ankara is determined to buy the Russian-made defence system, a decision which will have very serious implications for the future of the country.”
The interview continued, “The US side had made it clear that if Turkey bought the missile defence system it would not only impose economic and political sanctions on the latter, but would also scrap Turkey’s purchase of the American F-35 stealth fighter jets, as well as eliminating any cooperation in the search for gas and oil in the eastern Mediterranean.”
“Economic sanctions will be particularly disastrous at a time the Turkish economy is suffering a difficult, unpredictable and fragile period. Knowing that, the US is hoping to sway Turkey away from the Russian-Iranian axis in the region,” Elekdag explained.
“Turkish-made Arms Find Success at Defence Fair ”
On May 4th Yeni Akit Gazetesi reported, in accordance with Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) policy focus on locally manufactured arms, the 14th International Defence Industry Fair (IDEF) was launched in Turkey with the attendance of 1,400 local and foreign companies. At the opening ceremony Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said, "Before, we used to count on foreign parties for 80% of our defence armament. But today, this figure has dropped to 30%.”
Turkish weapons, especially anti-terrorism armanents, have been increasingly popular in recent years in African, Arab and Asian countries, and even the United States and the European Union.
About 70 contracts and agreements are expected to be signed during this year’s IDEF.
“A First in 37 Years… Istanbul’s International Book Fair will not be Held.”
On May 4th Zaman newspaper reported a decision taken by Istanbul’s former mayor, Mevlüt Uysal, a prominent party member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has resulted in the Sultanahmet region in Istanbul losing the chance to host the 2019 38th International Book Fair.
The new administration of the Greater Istanbul Municipality announced the postponement of the book fair in the region of Sultanahmet from 2019 to 2020 due to insufficient time to plan and organise for the event as a result of the former mayor's decision to cancel the exhibition entirely.
For the Sultanahmet region in Istanbul, the book fair has been an enthusiastically awaited annual event, which was held first in 1982 and continued until 2010, after which the exhibition was moved to Bayezid Square.
The exhibition was due to return to its birthplace in 2019.