Prominent figures from the intra-party opposition of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) gathered in a meeting in capital Ankara to determine the campaign strategy for the April 16 referendum, in which the constitutional amendment package including a switch to the presidential system will be voted.
Hundreds of attendees to the meeting included current and former deputies and provincial chairs who have declared their opposition to MHP Chairman Devlet Bahçeli, in addition to figures from the party's quasi-youth branch the Grey Wolves (Ülkü Ocakları).
Prominent names attending to the meeting were former minister Sadi Somuncuoğlu, former deputy parliament speaker Meral Akşener, former minister Koray Aydın, Gaziantep deputy Ümit Özdağ, former deputy Sinan Oğan, in addition Yusuf Halaçoğlu, Nuri Okutan, İsmail Ok, who are currently deputies from the MHP.
Çağrı Türkeş, daughter of MHP's founding and honorary leader Alparslan Türkeş, also attended the meeting.
In addition to MHP-linked figures, minor center-right and right-wing parties leaning "No" in the referendum, such as the Felicity Party (SP), Great Union Party (BBP), Homeland Party (YP), Democrat Party (DP) and Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), were also invited to the meeting.
Kayseri lawmaker Halaçoğlu, Balıkesir lawmaker Ok, and Isparta lawmaker Okutan and prominent party member Oğan were recently referred to the party's disciplinary committee for discharge proceedings on Feb. 13.
They have announced that they will vote no in the upcoming referendum on a possible switch to presidential system, which was agreed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and MHP administration. The support of MHP's voter base and field organization to the proposed system remains ambiguous and will be one of the key determinants of the outcome on April 16.
The revolt among MHP members was sparked by the November 2015 general election, where the MHP narrowly got into parliament and won the least number of seats among all parliament's parties, - just 40 out of 550 compared to 80 in June 2015 elections - even falling behind their arch rival pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) in terms of seats. The party dismissed former deputy parliament speaker and chairman candidate Meral Akşener in September 2016 and incumbent Gaziantep deputy Ümit Özdağ in November.
Oğan, another leading party dissident, was expelled from the party in a unanimous vote by the disciplinary board in August 2015. However, he returned to the party in November following a court ruling in favor of his appeal.
MHP dissidents Akşener, Oğan, Özdağ and Aydın, backed by a significant number of party delegates and provincial heads, have been fighting to remove Chairman Devlet Bahçeli, who has led the MHP for nearly 20 years. The dissidents tried to call a party congress last year, but they were blocked by the leadership.The issue later turned into a legal battle between the party administration and the dissidents, with courts issuing conflicting decisions, with the party administration emerging victories in blocking an extraordinary party congress on amending party bylaws disallowing an emergency leadership caucus.
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