Turkish presidential elections moved up
The guessing and speculations about the Turkish parliamentary elections, which officially were scheduled to take place next November, are over. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced that they will happen on June 24 of this year, almost a year and a half before regular elections were supposed to take place. The final approval for the date is in the hands of the electoral office. However, in a country that voted in favor of the presidential system last April, Erdogan’s word has long been the law (Reuters, “Turkey’s Erdogan declares early elections on June 24,” 04.18.2018).
An official reason for the early elections is the escalating war in Syria and Iraq and the urgent need for economic measures, which must be passed as soon as possible. Erdogan said, “Even though it seems as if there are no serious issues because the administration and the presidency work compatably, the diseases of the old system pop up at every step,” (CNN, “Turkey’s President Erdogan announces early elections,” 04.18.2018). In reality, the early elections would cement the presidential system, which will provide even more power to an already omnipotent Turkish president. Since the failed military coup in Turkey in July 2016, Erdogan has held onto power by keeping Turkey in a constant state of emergency. At the proposal of the opposition, the introduction of the presidential system managed to pass by a narrow majority in last April’s referendum (The Guardian, “Turkey to hold snap elections on 24 June, says Erdogan,” 04.18.2018; Reuters, “Erdogan’s shock election call brings cherished powers within reach,” 04.20.2018)
Officially, Erdogan’s proposal of the early elections is merely a response to the demands of the head of the Nationalist Action Party— or “Milliyetci Hareket Partisi” (MHP)—led by politician Devlet Bahceli. De jure, they are an opposition party; however, in reality, they have long supported Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). While MHP has announced that it will not run a candidate in the presidential election, the party plans to participate in parliamentary elections. Other opposition parties in Turkey are considerably weakened, with some of their leaders in prison and shocked by a sudden announcement of the elections, for which they are completely unprepared (Bloomberg, “Turkey Considers Erdogan Ally’s Call for Early Elections,” 04.17.2018).
In theory, the early presidential elections are an excellent opportunity for the Turkish people to remove their authoritarian president, who many feel has been turning the country into a presidential dictatorship ever since the 2016 failed military coup against him. However, this opportunity is only theoretical. A significant portion of the frightened Turkish voters believe that due to the looming war in the region, Turkey needs a strong, religious president (The New York Times, “In supporting Erdogan, Turks cite economic and religious gains,” 04.17.2017).
Thus, it is clear that the elections will greatly benefit Erdogan, whose popularity has also risen due to the surprisingly efficient military victory of the Turkish army in Afrin, Syria, as well as the relatively strong Turkish economy. The coming months will prove more difficult for Erdogan. The Turkish lira is already in free fall due to the cost of war. Moreover, further military victories in northern Syria, along the Turkish border where Erdogan plans to secure an “anti-Kurdish” buffer zone, will not be so easy to win. Lastly, the Turkish opposition has found itself in a particularly weak position due to intimidation and surprise, and it is likely it will not recover soon. Thus, this is a one-time opportunity for Erdogan (Al-Jazeera, “Why did Erdogan call snap elections in Turkey?,” 04.18.2018; Reuters, “Turkey Considers Erdo-gan Ally’s Call for Early Elections,” 04.18.2018).
Throughout the election season, Erdogan will officially legitimize the long-planned presidential system and will likely be immediately elected for another presidential term, which, given the current situation in Turkey, will allow him to strengthen his power even further. Many critics feel that Erdogan is step-by-step destroying all democratic achievements of his predecessor, the founder of the modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
—Marusa Rus, Reporter