TURKEY: Erdogan calls snap election; why?
In his announcement, Erdogan stressed the necessity of having an executive president as Turkey is facing crucial decisions [Anadolu]
Why did Erdogan call snap elections in Turkey?
AL JAZEERA – The surprise vote call comes amid a state of emergency, economic worries and Turkey’s increasing regional involvement.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the snap poll on Wednesday, moving it more than 18 months earlier than planned. The move came a day after his main ally, far-right leader Devlet Bahceli, called for snap polls.
The vote on June 24 – the date has to be confirmed by the electoral board – will mark the first time that parliamentary and presidential elections will be held under a new system which will give the new president increased powers.
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In April 2017, a constitutional referendum narrowly won by the government’s “Yes” camp changed Turkey’s parliamentary system to an executive presidency.
The constitutional changes passed in the referendum give the next president new powers, such as appointing vice presidents, ministers, high-level officials and senior judges. They also allow the president to dissolve parliament, issue executive decrees and impose a state of emergency.
In his announcement, Erdogan, the leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) stressed the necessity of having an executive president at a crucial time for Turkey.
“Although the president and government are working in harmony as much as possible, the diseases of the old system confront us at our each step,” Erdogan said in a televised address.
“Developments in Syria and elsewhere have made it critical to shift to the new executive system, so that we can take steps for our country’s future in a stronger manner,” he added, after his meeting with Bahceli, who leads the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
In late January, Turkish forces and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters started a military operation into Syria’s Afrin to remove a US-backed Kurdish militia – known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Ankara considers the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria and its armed wing, the US-backed YPG, to be “terrorist groups” with ties to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The operation against the YPG angered Washington, but Turkey has also been upset with its NATO ally over of its support for the group.
Meanwhile, Turkey has been working with Iran and Russia to end the Syrian war, while its cooperation with Moscow has expanded in multiple areas ranging from energy to defence.
After the announcement of the early elections call, both the Turkish lira, which had recently been on a rapid declining trend, and the stock market rallied.
The polls were originally scheduled for November 3, 2019.
Economy, Syria war
Erdogan, who has been in power for over 15 years, either as prime minister or president, has led Turkey’s economic transition to an emerging market.
In 2001, one year before he became prime minister, Turkey’s inflation rate stood at a skyrocketing 70 percent. Last year, it was at 12 percent.
Yet, financial concerns remain, and several analysts described Erdogan and Bahceli’s decision to move the elections forward as a rational move aimed at increasing their coalition’s chances to win both elections.
Etyen Mahcupyan, a Turkish political analyst and former adviser to ex-AK Party leader Ahmet Davutoglu, said “economic worries and the war in Syria” were the main factors behind the decisions for the snap polls.
“Elections are scheduled for such a close date to today in order not to give enough time to potential serious rivals to campaign against Erdogan, and not to give enough time for the opposition to be organised for the general elections,” he told Al Jazeera.
“The MHP, which backs Erdogan’s potential executive presidency, believes that conditions for a win would be worse if the elections were held in 2019. They want to go to the polls in a more fruitful climate,” added Mahcupyan.
Bahceli is seen by many as the main reason why Turkey is going to early polls [Reuters]
Taha Akyol, a political analyst and columnist, agreed, adding that the fear of the potential popularity of emerging right-wing Good (Iyi) Party also played a major part in the decision.
“Both AK Party and MHP voters are in the target audiences of Iyi Party. Therefore, the earlier, the better for the AK Party-MHP coalition in order to increase the chances for a win,” he told Al Jazeera.
Akyol said that the three largest opposition parties are poles apart politically from each other, and are unlikely to forge any alliances amongst themselves.
This, he noted, was an advantage for the AK Party and MHP.
“There is economic growth in the country. However, inflation, interest rates and Turkish/dollar parity remain high. And, like most other places in the world, the economic situation will be the key for the polls. The AK Party and MHP did not want to risk it, as things may get worse.”
Others argued that the move was taken in order to establish a stronger government to ensure stability.
“Bahceli believes that since the constitutional changes were passed in the referendum, Turkey has been governed with a temporary transitional system, said Hilal Kaplan, political analyst and columnist.
“The elections will put the country in the right track with a strong presidential government,” she told Al Jazeera.
“The aim of the upcoming polls are to establish a more stable and strong administration amid hard issues Turkey is facing, such as the situation in Syria, terror threats on the country, including the PKK and YPG, as well as Turkey’s increasing role in the region.”
Opposition parties react
In the last parliamentary elections in 2015, the AK Party won a comfortable majority of 317 seats in the 550-seat parliament by securing 49.5 percent of the votes. Erdogan also won the 2014 presidential election by winning 51.79 percent in the first round.
Following Wednesday’s announcement, the centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) said it was accepting the challenge.
“We are ready for elections. We are ready, as if they will be held tomorrow,” spokesperson Bulent Tezcan said from his party’s headquarters.
But Ayhan Bilgen, spokesperson for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), criticised the government’s move and said that there were no reasonable grounds for snap elections.
There has also been speculation about whether Iyi Party, which was founded in October 2017, will be eligible to participate in the elections. Turkey’s electoral board is to decide whether it meets the conditions to run in the polls.
If denied participation, the party could either enter alliances with other political forces or run with independent candidates in the general elections. There is no obstacle for its leader Meral Aksener to run for president, as long as she collects 100,000 signatures to back her candidacy.
Aksener said on Wednesday that her party did not have any issues about entering the elections, while also announcing that she was planning to enter the presidential race.
The polls will be held under the state of emergency, which has been in place since July 2016 after around 300 people were killed during a failed coup attempt.
Ankara blames the movement of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based self-exiled religious leader, for the attempted coup.
Turkey: Coup plotters ‘acted early’ in fear of arrests
The Turkish government says the movement’s members have been running “a parallel state” within the civilian and military bureaucracy and following their own agenda. Gulen denies the claims.
A recent European Commission report said that under the state of emergency, more than 150,000 people had been taken into custody, 78,000 arrested and over 110,000 civil servants dismissed. Turkish authorities say that some 40,000 have been reinstated in the process.
Turkey’s Western allies have repeatedly condemned the Turkish government’s detentions and purges after the coup attempt.
Local and international rights groups accuse the government of using the coup bid as a pretext to silence opposition in the country.
The government says that the purges and detentions are in line with the rule of law and aim to remove Gulen’s supporters from state institutions and other parts of society.
Ankara blames its western allies for not understanding and taking seriously the “terrorist threat” on Turkey coming from the movement of Gulen and PKK.
—— AUTO – GENERATED; Published (Halifax Canada Time AST) on: April 18, 2018 at 07:39PM