Ankara: A Turkish former interior minister once dubbed Turkey´s Iron Lady and seen as a potentially strong challenger to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched a political party Wednesday after months of speculation.
Meral Aksener delivered a defiant speech promising a “strong, happy” Turkey at the official launch of the Iyi (“Good” in Turkish) Party in the capital Ankara.
“We have hope. We have dreams. We want a rich Turkey. We have strength. We want a fair Turkey… we want a free society. We want a happy Turkey,” she said during a spirited speech filled with nationalism and an audience waving Turkish flags.
She was cheered by thousands of supporters and founding party members in a hall surrounded by the party´s blue and yellow sun logo and banners of modern Turkey founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Aksener, 61, was a former member of the country´s third largest opposition right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) until she failed to remove Devlet Bahceli as MHP leader in early 2016 and was later expelled from the party in September 2016.
Bahceli has led the MHP for over 20 years but opponents wanted a fresh face.
There has been frenzied talk of Aksener running against Erdogan in the presidential election in November 2019 when Turkey´s parliamentary system will formally become an executive presidency after the referendum on constitutional changes earlier this year.
Turks approved giving the president greater powers including appointing ministers in the most radical political shake-up in the country´s recent history.
– ´Doors are open´ –
Aksener has been described in various ways, from Turkey´s Iron Lady in a nod to the late British premier Margaret Thatcher to the mythical she-wolf Asena. She has also been compared to the French National Front leader Marine Le Pen, with both enjoying support from nationalist parties.
She served as interior minister for less than a year between 1996 and 1997, but was notably critical of the 1997 ousting of the then Islamist government by the military.
A lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People´s Party (CHP), Aytun Ciray, resigned on Monday to join Aksener´s new party, which came as reports suggested she wanted to form a parliamentary group with MPs who are prepared to switch their allegiance.
Aksener has denied the reports, but said Monday the party´s “doors would be open” to people of any political viewpoint.
The party´s supporters believe it can win over CHP and AKP voters.
Aksener has now submitted a formal application to the interior ministry for the establishment of the party, Dogan news agency reported.