Turkey: Why did Erdogan call early elections?
June 24 elections take place during a state of emergency, economic concerns, and Turkey’s regional interventions.
Turkish voters are heading to the polls in early elections held against a backdrop of an ongoing state of emergency and a declining currency, as well as shifting international alliances and increasing involvement in Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the snap polls in mid-April – moving them up more than 18 months earlier than planned – together with his main ally, far-right leader Devlet Bahceli. The elections were originally scheduled for November 3, 2019.
The vote marks the first time that parliamentary and presidential elections are held under a new system that gives the new president increased executive powers.
In April 2017, a constitutional referendum narrowly won by the government’s “Yes” camp changed Turkey’s parliamentary system to an executive presidency.
The changes allow presidents to appoint vice presidents, ministers, high-level officials and senior judges. The president can dissolve parliament, issue executive decrees, and impose a state of emergency.
Erdogan, who is also leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), has 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 when announcing the election.
“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).
Economy and Syria’s war
In late January, Turkish forces and Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters launched 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 YPG, to be “terrorist groups” with ties to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The operation against the YPG angered Washington, but Turkey was also upset with its NATO ally over US support for the armed group.
Meanwhile, Turkey has been working with Iran and Russia to end the seven-year Syrian war, while its cooperation with Moscow has expanded in multiple areas ranging from energy to defence.
There has also been economic concerns rippling through the country. Since the beginning of 2018, the Turkish lira has depreciated more than 20 percent against the US dollar, hitting a low of 4.93 against the greenback.
Erdogan, who has been in power for more than 15 years, either as prime minister or president, has led Turkey’s economic transition to an emerging market.
In 2001, a year before he became prime minister, Turkey’s inflation rate was an abysmal 69 percent. Last year, it stood at 12 percent. Yet, financial concerns remain.
‘Not enough time’
Several analysts described Erdogan’s and Bahceli’s decision to move the vote forward as a way to increase their alliance’s chances of winning both the parliamentary and presidential 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 decision for snap polls.
“Elections are scheduled for such a close date 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,” Mahcupyan 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.”
Taha Akyol, a political analyst and columnist, said fear of the potential popularity of the 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 said.
“There is economic growth in the country. However, inflation, interest rates and dollar-Turkish lira exchange rate remain high. And, like most other places in the world, the economic situation will be the key factor in the polls. The AK Party and MHP did not want to risk it, as things may get worse.”
Others argued the move was made 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, a political analyst and columnist.
“The elections will put the country on the right track with a strong presidential government. The aim of the upcoming polls is 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,” she told Al Jazeera.
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 claiming 51.79 percent of the vote in the first round.
The ruling AK Party and MHP will enter the parliamentary election as a bloc – with support from the smaller Great Unity Party (BBP) – called the People’s Alliance. Erdogan will be their joint candidate for the presidential vote.
Meanwhile, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), IYI Party, conservative Felicity Party (SP) and centre-right Democratic Party (DP) formed their own alliance despite their poles-apart backgrounds and ideologies.
The polls will be held under the state of emergency, which has been in place since July 2016 after about 300 people were killed during a failed coup attempt.
Turkey blames the movement of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based self-exiled religious leader for the attempted putsch.
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 under the state of emergency more than 150,000 people had been taken into custody, 78,000 arrested, with more than 110,000 civil servants dismissed. Turkish authorities say some 40,000 have been reinstated.
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 d’etat as a pretext to silence opposition in the country.
The government says 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.
Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_Uras