Erdogan regenerates gov't, party before elections

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan undertook the difficult task to regenerate both government and his ruling party ahead of the crucial 2019 elections, after having complained of a "fatigue" amongst his political entourage.

Erdogan, who has been ruling Turkey since 2002, first as prime minister and then president, had a very narrow victory, 51 percent in the April constitutional referendum, which granted him extensive executive powers.

Despite the victory, with the opposition claims of rigged results, the president expressed concerns that the state of things at his Justice and Development Party (AKP) was not as he expected.

After regaining the leadership of the AKP in May following constitutional referendum, Erdogan refuses any defiance inside his "home" which vowed to rejuvenate the cabinet.

He put up the first step of the rejuvenation with replacing and swapping 11 ministers on July 19, with a six-month "action plan" expected ahead of the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections.

This scheme will reportedly include new projects and reforms in several areas where the AKP already made significant improvements, such as transportation, energy, labor and health, winning votes for the party across the country in past elections.

With key ministries such as the foreign affairs, interior and economy unchanged, Erdogan appointed one of his fervent and loyal supporters, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, as deputy prime minister, and also the government spokesman.

It is Bozdag that oversees the massive purge launched against the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by Ankara of having masterminded the failed coup attempt last summer, which resulted in arresting 50,000 people and dismissing more than 110,000 others from public service.

Most of the constitutional changes will come into effect after the elections and Erdogan will only be able then to assume his new powers, which critics claim will drift this NATO country into even more authoritarian rule.

"When a party has an exceptional longevity in politics, it is only natural that some people lose focus, get tired or simply don't have the necessary drive to do things the way it should be," said an AKP official, who preferred to remain anonymous.

His comments came less than 24 hours after Erdogan convened an unannounced meeting of local bodies of AKP, where, according to the press, he called on to those "exhausted" to quit their duties for the sake of the 2019 elections.

"The 2019 elections have a critical importance for us. We have to work hard in order to win the hearts of people. It is not easy to stay in power," said Erdogan, reported Hurriyet Daily News.

"Erdogan is our leader as he is the one who knows the party better than anyone else," said the AKP source, adding that the faith will bring dynamism and enthusiasm to the party.

Erdogan also made important changes in the party in recent days, replacing some of the high ranking officials with some young and ardent newcomers, or "fresh blood," as pointed out by the pro-government press.

Other than economic and diplomatic hardships with her neighbors and European powers, Erdogan also has to deal with opposition leaders who plan to leave their mark on the political agenda.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition People's Republican Party, Turkey's oldest political institution, led a 450-km-long and publicized "Justice March" from Ankara to Istanbul to protest the government's crackdown against all opposition circles in the midst of the state of emergency, which was imposed after last year's coup attempt.

The mild mannered and 68-year-old politician became a force to be reckoned rallying hundreds of thousands at the finishing line, and could be Erdogan's main rival for the next presidential election, said experts.

Moreover, Meral Aksener, a former interior minister and ambitious nationalist, is also becoming a prominent figure in Turkish politics and a possible challenger to Erdogan.

The Turkish "Iran lady" is reportedly planning to announce a new political party, which might draw attention from the religious and nationalist grass roots of AKP.

The new presidential system approved by Turkish voters in April changed things for Erdogan, elected as head of state in 2014.

In the past, when the parliamentary system was still valid, the charismatic crowd pleaser Erdogan had no real problem securing a government and a majority of seats with a vote of 40 percent. But under the new constitution, Erdogan has to obtain over 50 percent of votes.

The AKP will celebrate in August its 16th anniversary. The party, which was founded in 2001 and has never lost any election since 2002, is now trying to remain in full strength for the 2019 election campaign, said the party's spokesman Mahir Unal.

Meanwhile, some experts argue that the religious card will define AKP's policy in line with Erdogan' wishes to promote the mostly secular Turkey as a republic with Islamic ideals.


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