Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced he is moving Turkey’s elections forward to June 24. The elections, originally planned for November 3, 2019, will come 18 months early, drawing international criticism.
President Erdogan leads the ruling Law and Justice Party (AKP). AKP holds a majority in parliament, but will form a coalition with the the Nationalist Movement party (MHP) if needed.
Serving as either president or prime minister, Erdogan has held power for over 15 years.
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Why Move Turkey’s Elections?
In April 2017, changes to the constitution which expanded the powers of the president barely passed with the help of Erdogan’s allies in parliament. The changes shift Turkey’s parliamentary system to an executive presidency. Under the constitutional changes, the next president is set to hold greater powers, including the right to make high level appointments. More concerning, the president will be able to dissolve parliament, declare a state of emergency, and make executive decrees.
Experts suspect Erdogan has moved the elections forward to allow him to step into new presidential powers more quickly, especially amid greater Turkish involvement in Syria and a growing alliance with Moscow.
During the announcement Erdogan said, “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.”
The Turkish president went on to say, “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.”
International and Turkish experts believe the move is intended to cripple any potential opposition.
Words from Experts
Turkish political analyst and former AKP insider, Etyen Mahcupyan, told Al Jazeera, “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 explained further, “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.”
Other analysts have pointed out Erdogan wants the Turkish people to head to the polls while he can take credit for a strong economy, anticipating that the positive economic conditions may not hold over the next two years.
AKP and Erdogan may also fear the growth of the Iyi Party, an emerging right wing party that could draw support away from the AKP and MHP. The Iyi Party, founded in October 2017, may not even be eligible to participate in the coming elections. The country’s electoral board will have to come to a decision on whether the right wing party meets conditions to participate.
Is Erdogan a Dictator?
Especially in light of the recent constitutional changes and the announcement of snap elections, Erdogan has been compared to ally Vladimir Putin.
Last month, Putin won reelection in Russia in an election characterized by fraud and ballot stuffing. To ensure a Putin victory, Putin’s main rival was banned from participating in the elections all together.
Many see Erdogan’s move to push forward Turkey’s elections in a similar light. The Guardian, called Erdogan “a dictator in all but name,” and described him as, “one of a crop of present-day political leaders who value the respectability an ostensibly democratic election confers but don’t want to risk actually losing the vote.” The Guardian compared Erdogan to Putin, as well as China’s Xi Jinping and Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
In 2016, Erdogan narrowly survived an attempted coup led by the military, which killed some 300 people. Soldiers took to the streets of Ankara and fighter jets dropped bombs on parliament in a failed attempt to remove Erdogan from power by force.
The Turkish government declared a state of emergency to remove “terrorist elements” involved in the coup attempt. More than 70,000 were arrested, media outlets were shut down, and restrictions placed on universities. Ankara has been widely condemned for the purge. Some claim Erdogan used the coup and subsequent state of emergency to silence the opposition and remove his enemies & critics from power.
The state of emergency persists and is likely to be in effect as the Turkish people vote on June 24.
Like Putin, Erdogan is also adept at manipulating nationalist rhetoric to his favor. The Turkish president routinely speaks out against Turkey’s Kurdish minority, who he refers to universally as terrorists. He has used the excuse of eradicating Kurdish terrorism to expand Turkey’s military involvement in Syria. Erdogan also used tensions with the Kurds as justification for moving the election forward to June.
Despite a standing bid to enter the EU, Erdogan reflects Putin’s anti-EU, anti-Western sentiments. Turkey’s bid to join the EU has been suspended since 2016 amid concerns of human rights violations following the post-coup purge, which saw 160 independent media outlets shuttered, journalists imprisoned, and increased censorship across the Internet & social media. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports Turkey makes more requests to Twitter for censoring individual accounts than any other country. Turkey leads the world for the most journalists jailed each year, as well.
HRW and other human rights groups have also voiced concern for LGBT+ individuals and women living in Turkey. The Istanbul Gay Pride Parade has been banned for the second year in a row, while 370 NGOs have been shut down, many related to women’s rights. “Honor killings” and domestic violence against women are prevalent in Turkey. The UN has also condemned barriers to entry that prevent women, especially Kurdish women, from pursuing an education.
Since Turkey’s elections were moved forward 18 months, the opposition will likely not have time to establish a serious rival to Erdogan. At present, there doesn’t seem to be a politician with the prestige, power, and finances to challenge Erdogan’s 15 year rule in Turkey’s elections. He has also successfully removed opposition from within his own party, cementing his position as Turkey’s leader. Despite the potentially unethical practices, polls indicate Erdogan enjoys popular support from the Turkish people.