PHOTO: Fethulah Gulen and Recep Tayyip Erodgan

In another escalation of the political temperature in Turkey, Fethulah Gulen, the head of a leading opposition movement, has challenged Prime Minister Erdogan’s “hegemony of the executive”.

Less than two weeks before local elections, Gulen said the Government can only restore trust by committing to a new Constitution, universal human rights, rule of law, and accountable governance.

Gulen, a one-time ally of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP, has been locked in an increasingly bitter fight with the Prime Minister. Each has accused the other of a “conspiracy” to take over the Turkish State for political and financial gain.

Erdogan and the AKP have tried to counter claims of corruption, including arrests in December of leading businessmen and the sons of four Cabinet ministers, with the allegation that “foreign lobbies” are trying to topple the Government. They insist that they will defeat the challenge with the support of the Turkish public at the ballot box.

Gulen is countering by emphasizing the “necessity of democratic forces”.

The Prime Minister is not backing down. To the contrary, he has labeled the Gulen Movement as “neo-Ergenekon”, the successor to the Ergekenon “coup” that was foiled with many of its members given long prison sentences. Gulen is the “chief intelligent agent” of the foreign conspirators trying to topple the Government, said the Prime Minister.

Erdogan also denounced other opposition parties such as the Republic People’s Party and the Nationalist Movement Party as “no different that Pennsylvania”, where Gulen is based.

However, the Prime Minister did not mention the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, apparently not to jeopardize further talks to resolve the “Kurdish question” inside Turkey.

That question, for now, is secondary to Erdogan’s political future and tactics. Days after tens of thousands marched in memory of Berkin Elvan, the 15-year-old boy killed by security forces, and facing Gulen’s persistent challenge, can the Prime Minister claim victory through the local elections?