Mayoral rivals to hold Turkey’s first TV debate in two decades

Candidate for the Istanbul re-run for the mayor’s election, Ekrem Imamoglu, center, poses for a picture with party members in Istanbul. (AFP)
Updated 10 June 2019

Mayoral rivals to hold Turkey’s first TV debate in two decades

  • The two candidates will hold a debate on June 16, to be broadcast on all channels

ANKARA: Istanbul’s ousted main opposition mayor Ekrem Imamoglu and his AK Party rival Binali Yildirim will hold a televised debate on June 16, party officials said on Monday, in what will be the first debate of its kind in Turkey in nearly two decades.

The Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Imamoglu won a narrow victory over Yildirim in March 31 local elections, marking a painful shock for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. But after weeks of AK Party (AKP) appeals, Turkey’s election board annulled the vote over irregularities and set a re-run for June 23.

Speaking to reporters after two days of talks, AKP Chairman Mahir Unal and CHP Deputy Chairman Engin Altay said the two candidates will hold a debate on June 16 at 9 p.m. (1800 GMT) to be broadcast on all channels. Ismail Kucukkaya of the opposition broadcaster Fox TV will moderate.

The televised debate, which Imamoglu had proposed prior to the March 31 vote, would be the first of its kind in Turkey at any political level since the early 2000s, when Erdogan’s AKP came to power.

The two parties agreed on ground rules based on “the principle of objectivity” including “equal speaking time and questions” during the debate, Altay said.

Minutes after the announcement, Imamoglu tagged Yildirim in a tweet and said: “I will be very pleased to discuss all aspects of Istanbul with you on Sunday, June 16 at 21:00 under the moderation of Ismail Kucukkaya. Good luck.” 

Ankara-Russia missile deal

Separately, the head of the Turkish Defense Industries Directorate said on Monday the US has not moved to create a joint working group to assess its concerns regarding Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense systems.

Speaking to reporters after an event in Ankara, Ismail Demir said Turkish officials were preparing a response to a letter by acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, which outlined how Turkey would be pulled out the F-35 fighter jet program if it pressed on with the S-400 deal.

The two NATO allies have sparred publicly for months over Turkey’s order for the S-400s, which Washington says poses a threat to the Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 fighters, which Turkey also plans to buy. Turkey proposed the joint working group.


Hundreds of employees fired from Turkey’s Incirlik air base

Updated 25 January 2020

Hundreds of employees fired from Turkey’s Incirlik air base

  • Incirlik Air Base is located in Turkey’s Adana province, near the Syrian border, and it has been a strategic element in ties between Ankara and Washington
  • It has also played a key role for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past

ANKARA: More than 420 people working at a crucial military air base in southern Turkey have lost their jobs, with some analysts considering it symbolic of decreased cooperation levels with the US and as the Pentagon reconsiders Middle East deployments.
Incirlik Air Base is located in Turkey’s Adana province, near the Syrian border, and it has been a strategic element in ties between Ankara and Washington. It has also played a key role for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past, as well as hosting US nuclear warheads.
The Colorado-based company Vectrus System Corporation, which provides day-to-day maintenance and operation services at the base, terminated the contracts of almost half of its employees at the base earlier this month.
“The base surged to support OIR,” Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Arab News. “The Turkey-based staff for OIR has mostly left. So, the base is going back to its pre-OIR level of people, and that level requires less contractor support.”
Vectrus did not reply to Arab News’ request for comment about its decision to scale back at the base.
Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said the move was largely symbolic as the canceled contracts related to logistical support rather than the US military mission.
“But obviously, it comes against the background of some tensions in the US-Turkish relationship and previous hints by Ankara that it might reconsider the status of the Incirlik base,” he told Arab News. “The Pentagon is reconsidering its deployment across the Middle East and it might be looking to become less dependent on Incirlik without fully exiting this crucial military air base.”
Incirlik air base has been used in the past as a bargaining chip at times of tension between the two countries.
“Turkey may re-evaluate the status of the Incirlik Air Base if the US imposes sanctions,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last month in an interview with pro-government channel A-Haber, referring to the potential fallout from Turkey’s decision to buy an air defense system from Russia. 
Washington has threatened to use its Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act to punish Ankara for buying the S-400 system.
Seth J. Frantzman, who is executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, said reports of the US reducing presence at Incirlik, or challenges to the US presence there, have been growing over the last years.
“Whether these reports relate to changes or are just random is unclear and it is important to note that the large interests of the military and history tend to mean the US does not simply walk away from bases, even if it reduces its role slowly over time,” he told Arab News.
The US has invested heavily in the Jordanian Muwaffaq Salti Air Base to expand its presence there.