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By Burak Akinci

ANKARA Da'Ron Payne Color Rush Jersey , Sept. 13 (Xinhua) -- Turkey's former nationalist Interior Minister Meral Aksener is being touted as a possible challenger to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the next presidential election.

She is planning to launch soon a party which would not only appeal to the nationalist platform but to a broader electorate.

One of her well-known supporters, another former nationalist minister, Koray Aydin, announced last week that Aksener, called among her supporters as the "Turkish Iron Lady," would likely run against the conservative Erdogan in the next presidential elections planned for November 2019.

The 61-year-old energetic and young-looking Aksener, who holds a PhD in history, rose to prominence as a fierce critic of president Erdogan, drawing large crowds in political meetings.

"I will challenge him, everyone knows that I am a tough one. I will restore the rule of law in Turkey," she said in a recent televised interview.

Aksener was interior minister in 1996 during the highest point of the Turkish state's struggle against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), who wages a bloody war in mainly Kurdish populated southeast since 1984. And her politics still reflect her long-held nationalism.

She has still to prove that she will be a worthy challenger to the dominant president who has never lost an election since coming to power in 2002, first as prime minister and then president, since 2014.

Erdogan won very narrowly a disputed constitutional referendum in April granting him sweeping executive powers.

Over the course of the past year, the president has consolidated his hold on government and already begun exercising some of the powers that were supposed to go into effect after the 2019 election, because, he insisted, the failed coup of July 2016 had necessitated such a move.

The ardent Aksener was a prominent member of the front that campaigned for a "No" to the controversial revisions along with Turkey's largest opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), the secular establishment who has been unable to score an election victory for 15 years.

The botched coup against Erdogan and his regime and the subsequent emergency rule have caused serious political and social tensions amid a massive crackdown against followers of the U.S. exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused of masterminding the plot on the night of July 15th, 2016.

More than 50,000 people have been detained so far in the unprecedented crackdown including civil servants, soldiers, and journalists.

Analysts predict that Aksener can rally support from her former party, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) from which she has been expelled with many other for having challenged the veteran and septuagenarian leader, Devlet Bahceli, but also from Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), where a disgruntled base, uncomfortable with the ongoing repression, could vote for her.

"Meral Aksener's new political party has the potential to appeal Turkey's center-right voters, which continues to be the largest segment of the Turkish electorate. She, therefore, can attract voters not only from her former party MHP but also the AKP," said to Xinhua Aykan Erdemir, a former member of the Turkish parliament and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

According to this analyst, "it wouldn't be surprising for Aksener to perform well in the 2019 elections," pointing out that if she chooses to run against Erdogan in the presidential elections, "she would make it nearly impossible for Erdogan to win the presidency in the first round," where he would have to secure more than 50% of the votes.

Three elections will be held in 2019: legislative, municipal and presidential.

"Even if Aksener cannot qualify for the second round of presidential elections, she could lead to Erdogan's ultimate defeat," commented Erdemir.

The party of which Aksener is expected to be the leader of is planned to be established until the end of the year and even possibly in October. It will be called the Center Democratic Party, according to her entourage, thus without any clear reference to the left or the right of the political spectrum.

There are rumors in parliamentary circles in capital Ankara that in addition to MHP dissidents, a number of AKP figures, even dissatisfied lawmakers, might join Aksener's new party. Xinhua has also learned that some respected academics and bureaucrats have been offered to join the party.

Still many questions linger on. Will she be ready if Erdogan decides to hold early elections in 2018? And will she be able to assemble and rally the support of the conservative and Muslim religious segments who voted these last 15 years for Erdogan who transformed Turkey's political landscape?

Commentators think that Aksener's future party could be "decisive" in the presidential election, "which will be a turning point for Turkey as the dominant Erdogan wants to rule the country for 10 more years through the presidential system that he is the architect of," wrote Abdulkadir Selvi, a journalist close to the AKP in his column in Hurriyet Daily.

But it is early to say if she will succeed. "Some believe that her party could initially generate a bubble but will ultimately fizzle out in the two next years. Let's wait and see," he said, implying that the fact that expectations are high might be detrimental to her campaign.

Like other potential challengers of Erdogan, Meral Aksener still has been accused by pro-government media and government supporters on social media of being sympathetic to the Gulen network, a claim she has rejected as a "smear campaign," but also of sexist insults.

So can a combative female politician attract the votes of a largely patriarchal Turkish society? She doesn't wear the Islamic headscarf and is always in public wearing makeup

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Posted in Travel on November 09 at 12:37 PM

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