Turkey's Erdogan: No tolerance for US stalling on Syria safe zone

KONFRONTASI-President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared that Turkey would not allow the United States to delay its plan to set up a "safe zone" in northeast Syria, while insisting that the deal he reached with Washington was still the correct step to take.

Erdogan was quoted in a CNN Turk report published on Thursday as saying that Ankara would not accept delays in the plan, comparing it to an earlier deal with Washington to remove the Kurdish YPG fighters from the northern Syrian city of Manbij, which Turkey had accused the US of delaying.

Erdogan: US scrapping F-35 jet deal with Turkey would be robbery

KONFRONTASI-Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said it would be "robbery" for the United States to deny Turkey the F-35 fighter jets it has bought, according to remarks published in Turkish media.

"If you have a customer and that customer is making payments like clockwork, how can you not give that customer their goods? The name of that would be robbery," the national Hurriyet newspaper quoted Erdogan as saying on Thursday, as Turkey faces potential US sanctions over its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system.

Erdogan signals he backs re-run of contested Istanbul vote

KONFRONTASI-Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan signaled on Saturday he favors a re-run of a mayoral election in Istanbul which resulted in a narrow victory for the candidate of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

Erdogan’s ruling AK Party (AKP), which also lost control of the capital Ankara in the March 31 local elections, has already filed an appeal to Turkey’s High Election Board (YSK) to annul and re-run the election in Istanbul due to what it says were irregularities.

Erdogan says to keep up election challenge but Turkey must move on

KONFRONTASI-President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday his AK Party would keep up its challenge to the Istanbul election results after the main opposition candidate became mayor, but Turkey needed to end debate on the issue and focus on issues like the economy.

After 17 days of objections and recounts, the secularist opposition Republican People’s Party new mayor Ekrem Imamoglu took office on Wednesday, despite a pending request by the AKP to annul and repeat mayoral elections in Istanbul.

Erdogan casts doubt on Istanbul vote, driving lira lower

KONFRONTASI -  Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday the March 31 local elections were marred by “organized crime” at ballot boxes in Istanbul, and his comment drove down Turkey’s lira and assets as markets worried about a potential re-run of the vote.

Erdogan’s AK Party has already lost the mayoralty in the capital Ankara to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), and is challenging initial results showing a narrow CHP victory in Turkey’s largest city.

The AKP is reeling from the potential loss of both cities, which the party and its Islamist predecessors have governed for a quarter century. Erdogan himself rose to prominence as Istanbul mayor in the 1990s before emerging as national leader.

Erdogan said the scale of electoral irregularities his party had uncovered meant the margin of votes between Istanbul’s top two candidates, less than 20,000 in a city of 10 million voters, was too narrow for the opposition to claim victory.

The AKP has appealed to the High Election Board (YSK) for a full recount of votes cast in the election across all 39 districts of Istanbul. The YSK is looking into the AKP’s challenges but has not commented on Erdogan’s accusations.

Partial recounts have already been carried out in Istanbul, which have narrowed the initial lead for CHP mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu from 25,000 to a little less than 16,000 after more than 90 percent of those recounts.

“The citizens are telling us to protect their rights, they are complaining of organized crimes,” Erdogan told a press conference in Istanbul. “And we, as political parties, have determined such organized crimes.”

After Turkish election setback, AK Party reaches fork in the road

KONFRONTASI-While the dust from Sunday's local elections in Turkey is far from settled, observers are looking to see how President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will react to the loss of Istanbul and Ankara, after years of sustained electoral success.

With the results in Turkey's two largest cities among those under question and the election board carrying out recounts over alleged invalid ballots, Erdogan's advisers will nevertheless be analysing the campaign to see how Justice and Development Party (AK Party) candidates lost the two biggest prizes in the mayoral polls.

Opposition gains have led to speculation whether the vote marks the "beginning of the end" of the AK Party, after decades of electoral success.

"It would be more appropriate to call it a milestone on the road leading to the end," said Kemal Can, a veteran newspaper columnist. Like many other commentators, he identified Turkey's stuttering economy as the issue that had alienated many voters after years of booming growth and prosperity.

"This being a local election, the voting base of the ruling party wanted to give a lesson to the rulers even though they were 'kindly asked not to do so' by Erdogan and others."

Others suggested the AK Party's campaign, which saw senior figures characterise the opposition as supporters of terrorism, may have estranged some of the electorate.

"The government used harsh language against everyone who was against them," Can said. "This language was not welcomed even by some of their own supporters. The opposition successfully managed not to be dragged into this fight and left the ruling party alone in the tension they created."

Early elections more likely?

Erdogan, who has led the country since 2003, most recently as a president with enhanced powers, has ruled out calling presidential or parliamentary elections before they are due in June 2023.

However, many observers think opposition control of four of the five largest cities, which between them contain around 27 million of Turkey's 82 million citizens, could force the president's hand.

Gursel Tekin, vice chairman of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), which, in addition to Ankara and Istanbul, took major population centres such as Adana, Antalya and Hatay from the AK Party and its Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) partner, said the election results indicated a desire for change.

"The future of the AKP relies on whether they will heed the lesson of this demand," he said.

Pointing to polarisation in Turkish society, he added: "People want to live in peace and harmony; they demand solutions to their economic problems; they want a state of law; they want to get rid of partisan politics; they want a solution to our common problems by consensus."

More likely than early elections is the possibility of personnel and policy change within the government, with some analysts forecasting a ministerial reshuffle this month.

Pentagon says it expects to resolve row with Turkey over S-400

KONFRONTASI-Acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said on Tuesday that he expected to resolve a dispute with Turkey over its purchase of Russia's S-400 air defence system, a day after the United States halted the delivery of equipment related to the F-35 aircraft to Ankara.

The US is at an inflexion point in a years-long standoff with Turkey, a NATO ally, after failing to sway President Tayyip Erdogan that buying a Russian air defence system would compromise the security of F-35 aircraft.

Erdogan's AK Party 'loses' major Turkey cities in local elections

KONFRONTASI- Turkey's ruling party has lost mayoral elections in the country's largest three cities - Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir - in a stunning election setback for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to unofficial results published by state-run Anadolu Agency on Monday.

The official results will be released after the country's election board looks into objections filed by political parties, who have three days to file complaints.

Anadolu's unofficial data shows Republican People's Party's (CHP) candidate Ekrem Imamoglu won the heated mayoral race in Istanbul, the country's largest city and economic centre, with 48.8 percent of the vote, while the ruling Justice and Development (AK Party) candidate Binali Yildirim got 48.5 percent.

In the capital, Ankara, unofficial results showed that CHP candidate Mansur Yavas had garnered 50.9 percent, with the AK Party nominee Mehmet Ozhaseki trailing on 47.2 percent.

In the third-largest city, Izmir, the CHP candidate, Mustafa Tunc Soyer, was leading with 58 percent votes while AK Party's Nihat Zeybekci stood at 38.5 percent.

All of the votes have been counted in the three largest cities.

The ruling AK Party, which ran as part of the People's Alliance, lost both Ankara and Istanbul in Sunday's local elections, which were held against the backdrop of Turkey's first recession in a decade while its lira currency lost as much as 40 percent of its value against the US dollar last year.

The race in Istanbul was particularly tight, with both AK Party and the CHP claiming victory in Istanbul's mayoral election.

Yildirim claimed early on Monday that he had won the race by around 4,000 votes, but later admitted he was 25,000 votes behind Imamoglu from CHP, which is part of the Nation Alliance.

Yildirim's statement

Yildirim, however, said that his party had objections to the results over invalid votes.

"There are 31,136 ballot boxes [in Istanbul]. If there is one invalid vote in each ballot box, it makes 31,136 votes in total, which is more than the difference [between the two sides]," he said, adding that there are some 315,500 invalid votes in the polls.

Sezgin Tanrikulu, a CHP MP from Istanbul, said that although Imamoglu won the race in Istanbul, the election board was waiting for the objection period to end for legal reasons to declare the official winner.

"There have been complaints about certain ballot boxes. Legally, the party objecting should show a valid reason in doing so over each particular ballot box. Therefore, the number of boxes votes will be recounted in is limited," he told Al Jazeera.

"The government should respect the results."

According to Galip Dalay, a visiting fellow at the University of Oxford, the results are not a mathematical loss for the AK Party, but they still would not be taken lightly by Erdogan's bloc.

"However, it is a psychological loss as it lost several major cities including the biggest three," Dalay, who is also a non-resident fellow at Brookings Institution in Doha, told Al Jazeera.

"Early elections are out of the picture due to the fact that it did not suffer major losses in terms of vote numbers, but the result might set a context for wider discussions within the party and the conservative camp in Turkey about policy choices."

Speaking at a news conference in Istanbul on Sunday, Erdogan acknowledged that his party had lost control in a number of cities and pledged that he would focus on carrying out economic reforms.

Erdogan, who was elected last year as the country's first executive president, said the next polls would be held in June 2023, adding that Turkey would carefully implement a "strong economic programme" without compromising on free-market rules.

Ozgur Dilber, a CHP volunteer, said the results showed that the AK Party's popularity was waning.

"To me, the results are proof that the number of voters who want change is increasing," he told Al Jazeera speaking on the election results on Sunday.

Economy, security under spotlight as Turks set for local polls

KONFRONTASI-Millions of Turkish voters will on Sunday cast their ballots in critical local elections, after a heated campaign dominated by discussions over the country's economy and security.

The polls could pose a major challenge for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development (AK) Party given a backdrop of high inflation and rising unemployment sparked by a major currency crisis last year.

According to Taha Akyol, a Turkish political analyst and columnist, the vote is the "hardest" faced by Erdogan's party since coming to power in 2002.

"The party is trying hard to stay away from discussing actual economic issues," he said.

Turkey's economy has been hit hard since the lira lost as much as 40 percent of its value against the US dollar last year. The currency crisis, triggered in August after a bitter diplomatic spat with Washington, raised investor concerns over the independence of the Central Bank and highlighted wider worries over the performance of the economy.

The polls take place just weeks after official statistics showed that in the last two quarters of 2018 the Turkish economy slipped into its first recession in a decade, as inflation and interest rates soared due to the currency meltdown.

In February, inflation stood at just under 20 percent, while the Central Bank's main interest rate is currently 24 percent.

The lira on Thursday resumed its slide following the return of liquidity at a key London exchange market after an earlier decision by authorities to hold it back, in a move aimed at keeping the plunging currency steady and thwarting short-sellers - traders who bet against the lira.

Erdogan has often blamed foreign powers and "speculators" for the currency fluctuations and other economic woes faced by Turkey - a message he repeated this week.

"Attempts by a range of Western countries, most importantly the US, to put pressure on Ankara were behind the August 2018 manipulations in the Turkish currency market," Erdogan told reporters.

"We must discipline the speculators in the market," he said in another address.

Rival coalitions

With control of Turkey's major cities up for grabs, Erdogan's AK Party has entered the election race with its ally in the last two polls, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), under the People's Alliance.

The bloc's biggest rival is the Nation's Alliance, which was formed by the centre-left main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the right-wing Good (IYI) Party.

Both blocs have fielded dozens of joint candidates in the country's provinces, districts and towns.

The pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party (HDP), the fifth party represented in parliament, has not put forward any mayoral candidates for Turkey's six largest provinces, Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Bursa, Antalya and Adana, opting instead to back candidates running against Erdogan's alliance.

In recent years, HDP has seen scores of its mayors removed and replaced with trustees due to "terror charges" under an emergency rule that was put in place after a failed coup in 2016. The emergency measure ended in July 2018.

'Nationalistic rhetoric'

In the lead-up to Sunday's vote, the People's Alliance has sought to link the local polls to internal and external risks threatening the country's security.

The bloc's leaders have accused the parties in the Nation Alliance of being in cooperation with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has fought the Turkish state for more than 30 years in demand of autonomy.

Erdogan himself has cited the fact that the pro-Kurdish HDP is not competing in major cities but supports his opponents as proof of that cooperation.

"They do not talk about the dirty negotiations to carry the extensions of the PKK to municipalities through the candidate's list [of the Nation Alliance]," Erdogan said in a recent rally.

The government argues that the HDP has organic links to the PKK, a claim that has been denied by the political party.

Separately, the parties that make up the Nation Alliance have repeatedly dismissed the claims that they are cooperating with the HDP.

Galip Dalay, a visiting fellow at the University of Oxford, said that Erdogan's bloc used "a high-pitch nationalist rhetoric" during the campaign, with state security at its heart.

"They used the concept of terror and terrorism very generously in almost all policy areas - they link basic issues to terror and security," Dalay, who is also a non-resident fellow at Brooking's Institution in Doha, told Al Jazeera.

"The bloc also linked the economic situation of Turkey and other problems the country is going through to conspiracies carried out by internal and external actors," he said.

Trudeau: Canada has heard Turkish recordings on Khashoggi's killing

KONFRONTASI-Canadian intelligence has listened to Turkish recordings of what happened to Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist killed in Istanbul, said Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, although Trudeau added that he himself had not listened to them.

Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate by a team sent from Riyadh. Saudi authorities have acknowledged that the killing was premeditated, but his body has not been found.