Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, centre, says Turkey should leave political uncertainty behind. (AP: Kayhan Ozer/Pool)
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called snap elections for June 24, saying economic challenges and the war in Syria meant Turkey must switch quickly to the powerful executive presidency that goes into effect after the vote.
- The elections have been brought forward from November 2019
- Devlet Bahceli’s small MHP party is expected to form an alliance with Mr Erdogan’s AK Party
- The main opposition CHP party calls for an immediate end to the state of emergency
The presidential and parliamentary elections will take place under a state of emergency that has been in place since an attempted coup in July 2016.
It was extended by parliament on Wednesday for another three months.
In 15 years of rule as prime minister and then president, Mr Erdogan has transformed a poor, sprawling country at the eastern edge of Europe into a major emerging market.
But Turkey’s rapid growth has been accompanied by increased authoritarianism, with a security crackdown since the failed coup leading to the arrest of tens of thousands.
Last year, Mr Erdogan narrowly won a referendum to change the constitution and create the executive presidency. The changes take effect with the next presidential vote.
The Government had repeatedly denied reports it would bring forward the elections, which were not due until November 2019, but Mr Erdogan said Turkey should leave political uncertainty behind.
Citing its military operations in neighbouring Syria, the need to make important decisions on investments and an economy unlikely to maintain last year’s sharp growth, he said it was necessary “to remove the election issue from our agenda”.
Turkey must “switch to the new executive system in order to take steps for our country’s future in a stronger way”, he said, flanked by rows of Turkish flags, in an address from the presidential palace in Ankara that was broadcast live on television.
“By calling snap elections for June, Erdogan is signalling that he believes his support, at least for the near future, has peaked,” said Nicholas Danforth, a senior policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Centre in Washington.
“He may well be worried that if Turkey’s economic problems continue to worsen it will take a toll on his support.”
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan says the country needs to clear away obstacles to decision-making and growth. (Reuters: Huseyin Aldemir)
The announcement was made after Mr Erdogan held talks with the head of the nationalist MHP party, Devlet Bahceli, who a day earlier had floated the prospect of an early election.
Mr Bahceli’s small MHP party is expected to form an alliance with Mr Erdogan’s AK Party in the parliamentary election.
Three hours after Mr Erdogan’s declaration, the High Electoral Board said it had completed all preparations for early elections and was waiting for approval from parliament, where the AKP has a majority.
Calls to end state of emergency
The main opposition CHP party called for an immediate end to the emergency, which allows Mr Erdogan and the Government to bypass parliament in passing new laws and allows them to suspend rights and freedoms.
“There cannot be an election under emergency rule,” CHP spokesman Bulent Tezcan said.
“The country needs to be brought out of the emergency rule regime starting today.”
The United Nations last month called for an end to the emergency and accused Ankara of mass arrests, arbitrary sacking and other abuses.
Some 160,000 people have been detained and a similar number of civil servants dismissed since the failed coup, it said.
Media outlets have been shut down and scores of journalists have also been jailed.
The top European Union official handling now-stalled talks on Turkey’s joining the EU said Ankara was moving rapidly away from the path of membership — Brussels’ bluntest criticism yet of what it sees as a Turkey’s shift towards authoritarianism.
Turkey’s parliament last month passed a law revamping electoral regulations that the opposition has said could open the door to fraud and jeopardise the fairness of voting.
The law grants the High Electoral Board the authority to merge electoral districts and move ballot boxes to other districts.