Ankara: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday called snap elections for 24 June, bringing the polls forward by a year-and-a-half to accelerate the transition to a new system critics fear will lead to one-man rule.
The announcement by the strongman leader, who has ruled his country since 2003, upended the political timetable in Turkey which had been set to vote in simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections on 3 November, 2019.
The elections are especially significant as afterwards a new executive presidency — agreed in a 2017 referendum but denounced by the opposition as giving the president authoritarian powers — will come into force.
Analysts said Erdogan was looking to profit at the ballot box from surging nationalist sentiment, as Turkey presses an operation in Syria, before possibly tougher economic times set in.
The new timetable means that Turkey will also vote in the polls under the state of emergency imposed since the 15 July, 2016 failed coup aimed at ousting Erdogan. The Parliament on Wednesday approved the emergency staying in place for another three months.
'Overcome the uncertainties'
On Tuesday, Erdogan's ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) chief Devlet Bahceli stunned Turkish political observers by urging the government not to wait for November 2019 and to call snap polls.
"As a result of consultations with Mr Bahceli, we decided to hold elections on 24 June, 2018, a Sunday," said Erdogan at his palace after meeting the MHP leader.
Erdogan's Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) has established a formal alliance with the MHP to fight the elections, in the hope of sweeping up conservative votes.
Erdogan had previously insisted there would be no early elections, but had in recent weeks crisscrossed the country with campaign-style speeches, fuelling speculation of snap polls.
The president said the authorities would have preferred to "grit our teeth" and wait until November 2019 but argued the situation in neighbouring Iraq and Syria "made it essential for Turkey to overcome the uncertainties ahead as soon as possible".
Turkey is pursuing a cross-border operation inside neighbouring Syria, which has been wracked by a seven-year civil war, and earlier this year took the Kurdish militia-held Syrian town of Afrin.
Erdogan said he wanted to hasten the move to the new presidential system, agreed in the 16 April, 2017 referendum, which will see the office of prime minister eradicated and a new vertical power structure established under the presidency.
"The malaise of the old system can be seen in every step we take," he said.
A bill on the early elections has already been submitted to parliament which will debate the motion at the weekend, state media said.
'Sign of weakness'
The Turkish lira, which had been hit hard over fears of political turmoil, responded positively to the news, climbing 2.0 percent in value with investors gladdened over the end of uncertainty over the poll date.
But, Fadi Hakura, Turkey expert at London-based think tank Chatham House, told AFP that the authorities were keen to hold the elections before any further deterioration in the economy.
"This early election drive reflects the worsening economy that Turkey is going through. It therefore demonstrates a sign of weakness on the part of the (ruling party) leadership," he said.
While growth in Turkey was 7.4 percent in 2017, double-digit inflation, a wide current account deficit and the need for debt restructuring at top companies could be harbingers of trouble ahead.
'Capitalise on Syria'
The polls will give Erdogan, 64, a chance to extend his stay in power with a new-five year mandate, after already serving 15 years in power as premier and then president.
His closest challenger will be the main opposition secular Republican People's Party (CHP) led by Kemal Kilicdaroglu. The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) has been weakened by the arrests of its most prominent figures.
"We are ready as if the elections were scheduled for tomorrow," said CHP spokesman Bulent Tezcan.
But, Tezcan said Erdogan had "no right" to hold elections under the state of emergency and added Turkey had been under a "one-man regime" since the April 2017 referendum.
Jana Jabbour, professor of political science at Sciences Po university in Paris, said Erdogan was looking to "capitalise as fast as possible" on the nationalist sentiment in Turkey triggered by the Syria operation.
"The traditional opposition represented by the CHP... has been caught unprepared," she added.
Meral Aksener, the head of a new nationalist formation, the Iyi (Good) Party, which split away from Bahceli's MHP to protest his alliance with Erdogan, announced she would stand for the presidency.
Updated Date: Apr 19, 2018 07:48 AM