Türkiye Opposition Chief Cool to Constitution Talks with Erdogan

A Turkish flag with the Bosphorus Bridge in the background, flies on a passenger ferry in Istanbul, Turkey September 30, 2020. (Reuters)
A Turkish flag with the Bosphorus Bridge in the background, flies on a passenger ferry in Istanbul, Turkey September 30, 2020. (Reuters)
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Türkiye Opposition Chief Cool to Constitution Talks with Erdogan

A Turkish flag with the Bosphorus Bridge in the background, flies on a passenger ferry in Istanbul, Turkey September 30, 2020. (Reuters)
A Turkish flag with the Bosphorus Bridge in the background, flies on a passenger ferry in Istanbul, Turkey September 30, 2020. (Reuters)

Türkiye's main opposition leader, boosted by sweeping local election gains in March, said he is "far off" opening talks with Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party over a new constitution since the president doesn't abide by the existing one.

In an interview with Reuters, Ozgur Ozel, who was elected chairman of the Republican People's Party (CHP) last November, also called on the government to once again raise the minimum wage, which continues to lag the soaring inflation rate.

The question of whether and how to rewrite Türkiye's constitution could dominate domestic politics this year after Erdogan and his AK Party (AKP) said it is a priority. Analysts say a new document could potentially extend Erdogan's rule beyond 2028 when his current term ends.

"It would be a waste of time to discuss a new constitution while there has been so much violation of the constitution by the ruling party..." Ozel, 49, said at the CHP headquarters in Ankara this week.

"If the ruling party abides by the current constitution, we would get closer to discussing a new one. We are far-off from that point at the moment," he said.

Ozel's comments come after his secularist-centrist CHP won most major cities and made big gains in the AKP's rural heartland in the March 31 local elections, surpassing the conservative ruling party's share of the popular vote for the first time in more than two decades.

In response, Erdogan vowed to correct mistakes and called for a "softer" politics. Ozel held talks with the president this month, Erdogan's first with a CHP leader in nearly eight years.

Ozel said he had wanted to meet Erdogan after the local elections to help end political polarisation.

"If Türkiye is going to normalize, it needs to solve the issue of political detainees within its own domestic law," Ozel said, referring to cases such as the incarceration of philanthropist Osman Kavala.

In a ruling that critics and rights advocates say shows how Turkish courts silence political dissent, Kavala and seven others were convicted of trying to overthrow Erdogan's government by organizing the 2013 nationwide Gezi Park protests with seven others. Kavala denies the charges.

Ozel's election as CHP leader ended a 13-year term under Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who lost to Erdogan in the 2023 presidential vote. In the March elections, Ozel's CHP broke through its historic ceiling of 25% support nationwide.

Asked about government efforts to tame inflation, Ozel said savings from the government's new cost-cutting plan would be "cosmetic" and "inefficient".

"This plan aims to save 100 billion lira ($3.1 billion), but the central bank's loss last year alone amounts to 800 billion lira," Ozel said.



Iran Presidential Hopefuls Debate Economy Ahead of Election

Presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf speaks during a campaign event in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
Presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf speaks during a campaign event in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
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Iran Presidential Hopefuls Debate Economy Ahead of Election

Presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf speaks during a campaign event in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
Presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf speaks during a campaign event in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters

The six candidates vying to succeed ultraconservative president Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash, focused on revitalizing Iran's sanctions-hit economy in their first debate ahead of next week's election.

The contenders -- five conservatives and a sole reformer -- faced off in a four-hour live debate, vowing to address the financial challenges affecting the country's 85 million people.

Originally slated for 2025, the election was moved forward after Raisi's death on May 19 in a helicopter crash in northern Iran.

Long before the June 28 election, Iran had been grappling with mounting economic pressures, including international sanctions and soaring inflation.

"We will strengthen the economy so that the government can pay salaries according to inflation and maintain their purchasing power," conservative presidential hopeful Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said.

Ghalibaf, Iran's parliament speaker, also pledged to work towards removing crippling US sanctions reimposed after then US president Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran's economy grew by 5.7 percent in the year to March 2024, with authorities targeting a further eight percent growth this year, driven by hydrocarbon exports.

The sole reformist candidate, Massoud Pezeshkian, said he would seek to build regional and global relations to achieve this growth.

He also called for easing internet restrictions in the country where Facebook, Instagram, Telegram and X are among the social media platforms banned.

Reformists, whose political influence has waned in the years since the 1979 revolution, have fallen in behind Pezeshkian after other moderate hopefuls were barred from standing.

Ultraconservative former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, however, said Iran did not need to repair its relations with the West.

He took aim at Trump, saying his policy of "maximum pressure" against Iran had "failed miserably".

- 'Maximum pressure' -

In the absence of opinion polls, Ghalibaf, Jalili and Pezeshkian are seen as the frontrunners for Iran's second highest-ranking job.

Ultimate authority in the state is wielded by the supreme leader rather the president with 85-year-old Ali Khamenei holding the post for 35 years.

Incumbent Vice President Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi said during the debate he would seek to lower inflation following a "political leadership style similar to that of Martyr Raisi."

Raisi easily won Iran's 2021 election in which no reformist or moderate figures were allowed to run. Backed by Khamenei he had been tipped to possibly replace the supreme leader.

Iran’s relations with the West continued to suffer, particularly following the outbreak of the October 7 Gaza war.

Tehran's support for the Palestinian armed group Hamas, coupled with ongoing diplomatic tensions over Iran's nuclear program have hastened the decline.

Mostafa Pourmohammadi, the only cleric in the running, blamed international sanctions for "blocking the economy" and "making financial transactions impossible".

Tehran's conservative mayor, Alireza Zakani, said the US sanctions were "cruel" but were not the main problem behind Iran's economic hardship.

"We should emphasize the economic independence of the country, de-dollarize the economy and rely on our own national currency," he said.