Ankara’s mayor, Melih Gokcek, has stepped down, becoming the sixth mayor to resign as Turkey’s Erdogan purges his party’s ranks. Erdogan appears to be worried about a string of elections in 2019.
Ankara’s eccentric mayor, Melih Gokcek, resigned Saturday after 23 years of running the Turkish capital, becoming the latest local politician to bow to pressure from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as he shakes up his party.
The 69-year-old former mayor is one of Turkey’s most controversial and high-profile figures, regularly appearing on television and pushing conspiracy theories to his 4 million Twitter followers. He has famously claimed Western powers cause earthquakes to hurt Turkey, called German politician Cem Özdemir an “Armenian servant,” and suggested the Obama administration created the “Islamic State.”
A die-hard Erdogan loyalist, Gokcek announced he would resign last Monday. He made the announcement in his trademark all-caps tweets after a three-hour meeting with Erdogan at the presidential palace.
“God willing, on Saturday the Ankara city council will hold an extraordinary meeting and I will say goodbye to its members and resign,” he wrote.
In the weeks leading up to the resignation, Gokcek appeared to resist pressure to step down from Erdogan, who said there would be consequences for mayors who didn’t resign.
Then, the pro-government media that once supported Gokcek started publishing articles suggesting he was close to the opposition Republican People’s Party and Fethullah Gulen, the US-based cleric Ankara blames for last year’s failed coup attempt.
Such media reports were clear threats, indicating an indictment could be pending for Gulen ties or corruption if the mayor didn’t step down. Similar to Erdogan, Gokcek was close to the Gulen movement before a fallout between it and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2013.
Erdogan purging mayors
Gokcek is the sixth mayor from Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to resign under pressure in recent weeks, including those of Istanbul and Turkey’s fourth largest city of Bursa.
Under a state of emergency, Erdogan has also replaced more than 80 Kurdish mayors in the southeast with loyalist over the past year.
More than 50,000 people have been arrested and some 150,000 dismissed from their jobs in an ongoing cull in the wake of the failed coup attempt.