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Ankara Mayor Resigns as Turkish President Continues Purge

Melih Gokcek, Mayor of Ankara gestures as he announces his resignation, in Ankara, Turkey, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017.
Melih Gokcek, Mayor of Ankara gestures as he announces his resignation, in Ankara, Turkey, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017.

The long-serving mayor of the Turkish capital, Ankara, has resigned after pressure from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In the last few weeks, Erdogan has forced out of office six mayors belonging to his ruling AKP party as part of efforts to revitalize the party ahead of looming elections.

Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek's resignation followed weeks of intense pressure by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, culminating in the president publicly warning the mayor of severe consequences if he did not quit. In his resignation speech, Gokcek made clear he was not leaving willingly after 23 years in office.

He said, "I’m quitting not because I’m unsuccessful. I’m quitting because Erdogan asked me to do so. I’m complying with Erdogan’s orders and leaving my post."

Gokcek is the sixth mayor of Erdogan’s ruling AKP Party to be forced out by the president in the past few weeks. Included among the resignations are mayors of some of Turkey’s largest cities, including Istanbul. The purge is part of Erdogan’s effort to revitalize the party after its sluggish performance in this year’s referendum to extend the country’s presidential powers.

FILE - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
FILE - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The referendum narrowly passed, and it was rejected in many of Turkey’s largest cities, including Ankara and Istanbul, traditional strongholds of the president. While opinion polls continue to give Erdogan’s AKP a commanding lead, the same polls indicate a growing number of undecided voters and a softening among his supporters.

Political analyst Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners says with presidential and general elections due by 2019, Erdogan knows he has to act.

"That AKP lost of support is very obvious," said Yesilada. "So Mr. Erdogan thinks by changing unpopular mayors and local administrations, which in his view have lost their desire to serve the public, he could turn the tide."

The ongoing ouster of mayors already has resulted in unprecedented challenges to Erdogan’s authority. Several resignations came only after repeated threats by the president, who analysts say is accustomed to his demands being immediately obeyed.
With Turkey under emergency rule since last year’s failed coup, Erdogan has sweeping powers to remove elected mayors from their office. It's a power he has used on more than 80 occasions against mayors belonging to the pro-Kurdish HDP party. Erdogan’s ousting of his top mayors also is being accompanied by a similar ongoing nationwide purge of party and local elected officials.

Analyst Yesilada warns, though, that Erdogan’s strategy may be mistaken.

"What antagonizes the voter is probably not the local administrations or mayors, but it is Mr. Erdogan’s policies or cabinet polices," said Yesilada. "But he does not seem to understand that. And this cleanup in the rank and file is leading to a lot of objections, as these people, they don't understand why they are being let go.”

There are increasing reports of growing discord within the ruling AKP, though few members dare to openly speak out. But analysts warn Erdogan’s gamble on revitalizing his party by sacrificing his mayors could backfire given that voters are more likely to be concerned with Turkey’s rising double-digit inflation and unemployment, along with a sinking currency.