MHP head Bahçeli ignites ‘Gülenist support’ row over presidential bids

MHP head Bahçeli ignites ‘Gülenist support’ row over presidential bids

MHP head Bahçeli ignites ‘Gülenist support’ row over presidential bids

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli has sparked debate in Turkey by claiming that the network of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen could influence the upcoming snap presidential elections through the procedure in which independent candidates have to collect 100,000 signatures.

“Have the justice and interior ministers investigated the influence of [the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization] FETÖ over voters?” Bahçeli told reporters in Ankara on May 3.

“If they have not, I have concerns about which candidate [FETÖ] will focus on,” he said.

He specifically referred to Good (İYİ) Party leader Meral Akşener, who has opted to run in the elections by gathering 100,000 signatures even though she could be a candidate through her party group in parliament anyway.

“She could have done that with the 15 CHP lawmakers,” Bahçeli said, referring to MPs who resigned from the CHP to join the İYİ Party in order to ensure the latter’s participation in the election.

“How many [of those citizens giving signatures] are ByLock users? How many [of them] have been dismissed or removed from their posts? How many of their relatives are there? If all of them focus on one candidate and help them receive 100,000 signatures, Turkey would draw an important conclusion,” he added.

Asked whether he thinks all 100,000 signatures for a candidate should be investigated, Bahçeli said he was “just saying these things should be discussed.”

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım declined to comment on Bahçeli’s remarks, but AKP spokesperson Mahir Ünal said the ruling party “agrees with Mr. Bahçeli’s sensitivities on this issue.”

Akşener, meanwhile, blasted Bahçeli for “trying to scare” all people “who have decided to give their signatures.”

“President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan knows very well that I would not allow such discourse that is distant from being trustworthy, is insincere, and aims to scare our nation,” she told a group of reporters on May 3.

Referring to the massive purges initiated after the July 2016 coup attempt, believed to have been organized by the Gülen movement, Akşener questioned whether the investigation ever “indicated Bahçeli’s affiliation with FETÖ.”

“Has there been an investigation into [Bahçeli]?” she asked, indirectly accusing Bahçeli of having relation with Gülen. The Gülen network is a former close ally turned nemesis of the ruling AKP.

CHP: ‘Cooperating with FETÖ’

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu also slammed Bahçeli, while reiterating previous statements suggesting that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the leading name of the “political leg of the FETÖ. 

“[Bahçeli is] cooperating with the political leg of the FETÖ. I cannot forgive the fact that those who are cooperating with FETÖ’s political leg have now come to the point of accusing voters,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.

“If you are looking for a FETÖ member, you should look at the person you are cooperating with,” he added.

“The aim is simply to prevent people from collecting 100,000 signatures,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, calling on all voters who would like to support independent candidates “to go and collect all 100,000 signatures.”