April referendum scrapped a rule that required presidents to cut ties with political parties
Returning as AKP chairman gives Erdogan control of Parliament's most powerful party
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has resumed his role as chairman of the ruling AKP party in the controversial leader’s latest move to tighten his grip on power in the country.
Turkey voted for a rash of constitutional changes last month in a referendum that will strip powers from Parliament and give the president unprecedented authority.
Until the April vote, Turkish presidents were obliged to cut ties with their parties to show their neutrality.
But the constitutional changes scrapped that rule, and on Sunday, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) returned the reins to Erdogan in a extraordinary Congress in Ankara.
“I am grateful to you for considering me worthy of becoming the leader of the Justice and Development Party once again,” he said.
Erdogan could potentially remain president until 2029 under the country’s new political structure.
The President appeared to have come to the Congress with the country’s next elections in mind, reminding his supporters that “2019 is upon us.”
“We will have local elections in March 2019, and general elections and presidential elections in November 2019. We shall not stop. We shall work hard and maintain our humbleness,” he said Sunday. Some 80,000 supporters showed up to the Congress, according to media reports.
Erodgan co-founded the AKP in 2001, and the political powerhouse has ruled the country since its 2002 election win. Resuming leadership of the party would put Erdogan in control of both the executive branch of government and the largest party in Parliament.
It will also mean he can appoint his loyalists to more key posts.
The referendum, brought forward by the AKP, was widely condemned by European leaders and rights groups, who saw it as a blatant power grab by a leader showing increasing dictatorial tendencies.
Following an attempted military coup last year, Erodgan has led an ongoing purge that has gutted public institutions and crushed his political opponents. More than 100,000 people have been either jailed, arrested or suspended from their jobs.
He has been able to use heavier-handed tactics under the country’s state of emergency, which was declared following the coup attempt and extended several times. On Sunday, Erdogan said that he had no plans to end it.
“We will end it when peace and safety and security is restored. Why should we end it? Schools are open. Factories are running. Everything is going on as normal,” he said.
The tentacles of Erdogan’s crackdown have also reached the country’s universities and media organizations, once bastions of free thought and expression in Turkey. Academics and journalists considered critics of the government have been imprisoned for months without trial.
Erdogan also appears to have taken this brutality to the United States, where men who appeared to be his bodyguards were captured on a video by Voice of America on Tuesday outside the Turkish ambassador’s home pushing and repeatedly kicking anti-Erdogan protestors.
Two law enforcement officials confirmed to CNN that Turkish security officials were involved in the bloody brawl.
Later video emerged of Erdogan looking on as the brawl escalated. Nine people were hospitalized.
Erdogan was in Washington to meet with US President Donald Trump. Trump was among the first leaders to congratulate Erdogan on his referendum win and refrained from raising concerns about human rights violations in Turkey, as other Western leaders have.
It is not the first time members of Erdogan’s entourage have been filmed fighting in public.
A little more than a year ago in the same city, journalists accused members of Erdogan’s security detail of manhandling them and cursing them at a speech the Turkish president gave at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
CNN’s Joseph Netto, Elise Labott, Zachary Cohen, Paul P. Murphy and Peter Morris contributed to this report.