Mayoral rivals to hold Turkey’s first TV debate in two decades

Candidate for the Istanbul re-run for the mayor’s election, Ekrem Imamoglu, center, poses for a picture with party members in Istanbul. (AFP)
Updated 10 June 2019

Mayoral rivals to hold Turkey’s first TV debate in two decades

  • The two candidates will hold a debate on June 16, to be broadcast on all channels

ANKARA: Istanbul’s ousted main opposition mayor Ekrem Imamoglu and his AK Party rival Binali Yildirim will hold a televised debate on June 16, party officials said on Monday, in what will be the first debate of its kind in Turkey in nearly two decades.

The Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Imamoglu won a narrow victory over Yildirim in March 31 local elections, marking a painful shock for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. But after weeks of AK Party (AKP) appeals, Turkey’s election board annulled the vote over irregularities and set a re-run for June 23.

Speaking to reporters after two days of talks, AKP Chairman Mahir Unal and CHP Deputy Chairman Engin Altay said the two candidates will hold a debate on June 16 at 9 p.m. (1800 GMT) to be broadcast on all channels. Ismail Kucukkaya of the opposition broadcaster Fox TV will moderate.

The televised debate, which Imamoglu had proposed prior to the March 31 vote, would be the first of its kind in Turkey at any political level since the early 2000s, when Erdogan’s AKP came to power.

The two parties agreed on ground rules based on “the principle of objectivity” including “equal speaking time and questions” during the debate, Altay said.

Minutes after the announcement, Imamoglu tagged Yildirim in a tweet and said: “I will be very pleased to discuss all aspects of Istanbul with you on Sunday, June 16 at 21:00 under the moderation of Ismail Kucukkaya. Good luck.” 

Ankara-Russia missile deal

Separately, the head of the Turkish Defense Industries Directorate said on Monday the US has not moved to create a joint working group to assess its concerns regarding Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense systems.

Speaking to reporters after an event in Ankara, Ismail Demir said Turkish officials were preparing a response to a letter by acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, which outlined how Turkey would be pulled out the F-35 fighter jet program if it pressed on with the S-400 deal.

The two NATO allies have sparred publicly for months over Turkey’s order for the S-400s, which Washington says poses a threat to the Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 fighters, which Turkey also plans to buy. Turkey proposed the joint working group.


Erdogan hosts Putin, Rouhani for Syria summit

Updated 5 min 22 sec ago

Erdogan hosts Putin, Rouhani for Syria summit

  • Putin and Rouhani met Erdogan in Ankara for their fifth summit on the conflict since 2017
  • Iran and Russia have been staunch supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed his Russian and Iranian counterparts on Monday for their latest summit on Syria, with attention focused on Damascus’s push on the last rebel-held bastion of Idlib.
Presidents Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani met Erdogan in the Turkish capital Ankara for their fifth summit on the conflict since 2017.
Iran and Russia have been staunch supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while Turkey has called for his ouster and backed opposition fighters.
But with Assad’s position looking increasingly secure, Turkey’s priority has shifted to preventing a mass influx of refugees from Idlib in Syria’s northwest.
Turkey is concerned over the steady advance of Syrian forces into the region, backed by Russian air power, despite a series of cease-fires.
Turkey has 12 observation posts in Idlib to enforce a buffer zone agreement struck a year ago with Russia to prevent a full-scale Syrian offensive.
But the posts look increasingly threatened, with one of them cut off from the rest of Idlib when Syrian forces advanced last month.
Russian air strikes have continued in the region despite the latest cease-fire between Ankara and Moscow on August 31.
“A large number of terrorists are still present in this zone... and fighters continue to fire on the positions of government forces,” Kremlin adviser Yuri Ushakov said on Friday.
The Turkish presidency said the leaders would discuss the latest developments in Syria as well as “ensuring the necessary conditions for the voluntary return of refugees and discussing the joint step to be taken in the period ahead with the aim of achieving a lasting political solution.”
Moscow is keen to see progress on establishing a constitutional committee to oversee the next stage of the political settlement in Syria.
That would give Putin a political win to add to the military victories, said Dareen Khalifa, senior Syria analyst at International Crisis Group.
But she said expectations should remain low.
Even if they can agree on who will form the committee, “this leaves a crux of issues unaddressed for the future of the political process including the regime’s ability and willingness to undertake any kind of political reform,” Khalifa told AFP.
High on everyone’s mind at the summit will be the weekend attack on Saudi oil facilities, which Washington has blamed on Tehran, deepening bilateral tensions and putting the region on the brink of further conflict.
The leaders are expected to hold one-on-one meetings before the three-way summit, the Kremlin said.
They will also hold a closing news conference with a view to presenting a joint declaration.
Iran has been a crucial actor on the battlefield in Syria, but has kept a lower profile in recent months. Its focus has been on removing Israeli and US involvement.
“A large part of Syria’s problems have been solved and some still remain, the most important of which is the Idlib region and east of Euphrates, as well as the Zionist regime (Israel)’s aggressions and America’s interventionist presence,” Rouhani said in a televised statement as he left Iran.
Meanwhile, Turkey has other concerns regarding Syria.
It has repeatedly threatened to launch a cross-border offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces, whom it sees as allied to Kurdish militants in its own territory.
That has strained Turkey’s relations with its NATO ally, the United States, which backs the Syrian Kurds as the main fighting force against the Daesh group (IS).
The US has vowed to work with Turkey to clear Kurdish forces away from its border, but Ankara says progress has so far been “cosmetic” and it could launch an operation into Syria by the end of this month.
Turkey has conducted previous offensives against Daesh in 2016 and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in 2018.