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Early Elections in a Crisis-ridden Turkey

April 18, 2018

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, announced that the presidential and legislative elections, normally scheduled for November 2019, will be held earlier than planned. After having met his ally, Devlet Bahçeli, who demanded early elections the day before, Erdoğan declared that, despite his preference for waiting until November 2019, the elections will be organised on June 2018. President Erdoğan, who is in power since 2002, is known for respecting the election schedules without organising any snap vote. On Octobre 2017, addressing his supporters in the province of Konya, he was fiercely criticising the opposition leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who called for early elections. Erdoğan told, back then: ‘In democracies, the timing [of elections] is fixed. When it is the time, we would organise the elections. In the governments of Ak Party, we only organised snap elections when there was a dead-end, when we couldn’t form coalition on 7 June 2016 etc.’.

Given Erdoğan’s aversion to the early elections, Wednesday’s announcement generated suspicion in Turkey about the motive of his haste. Erdoğan, conscious of the speculations that might flourish after his announcement, tried to justify his decision by invoking the particular difficulties challenging his country. “Our preference has been to try to hold out till the date in November 2019. However, whether it be the cross-border operation in Syria, or the historic developments in Iraq and Syria have made it so that it is paramount for Turkey to overcome uncertainty.”

The fact that the state of emergency, declared in 2016, is still in vigour in Turkey increases the doubts about the impartiality in the election process. Because Erdoğan, during the state of emergency, is endowed with extra-ordinary powers of governing and legislating by decrees without consulting the parliament, the opposition parties demand the end of the emergency period in order to ensure an equitable competition. The spokesman of CHP, the main opposition party, of centre-left, Bülent Tezcan told the reporters that his party is ready for the snap elections. ‘We are ready, but you don’t have the right to drag this nation to an unjust election under the conditions of the state of emergency. Today, the parliament should annul it. We will compete, people will decide. Propaganda should be free.’

Since 2016, after the attempted coup d’État in July, Turkish authorities, benefiting from the state of emergency, started a process that targeted to demolish the network of the putschists invested all levels of the state. The mouvement of Fethullah Gülen, growing in influence during Erdoğan’s rule as they collaborated closely against the secular bureaucracy of the state, was designated as the responsible of the coup attempt, resulting in a resolute poursuit of its members. The vast operation against this mouvement, reinforced by the draconic powers of the state of emergency, gives the impression of a witch-hunt, as opponents to Erdoğan’s rule is easily classified as ‘Fetö’, referring to the mouvement of Gülen. Le Monde Diplomatique, in its April edition, reports that 115.000 people have been stripped of their constitutional rights during the state of emergency because of the suspicion that they might belong to the organisation of ‘Fetö’. They are fired from their jobs, and they don’t have voting rights, until they prove their innocence.

The malaise is extreme in the society, as opposition to Erdoğan’s ‘one-man rule’ becomes increasingly dangerous. HDP, pro-Kurdish party, suffered the most during the state of emergency. Gathering 10,76 % of votes in the legislative elections of 2015, the party became one of the preferred targets of Erdoğan. The co-presidents of the party, with nine parliament members, are incarcerated since 2016. 26.000 of HDP militants are also in prison. Accused of collaborating with PKK, a terrorist organisation, HDP has been the target of a severe persecution.

With the increasing influence of the government on the media, aggravating the continuing persecution of opponents, Turkey does not give the signs of a functioning democracy where election frauds are unlikely to happen. The upcoming two months will certainly be vital for Turkey, whose future depends on the result of the snap elections. The elections will mark the beginning of the presidential regime in Turkey, consolidating the powers of president and decreasing the role of the parliament. Accepted by the 51% of the population during the referendum of April 2017, the presidential regime will be normalising the state of emergency, giving a constitutional framework to all the powers that Erdoğan exercises under this exceptional period. Opposition parties vowed to annul the presidential regime and restore the powers of the parliament if elected. Turkish public, on June 2018, will be deciding if they are to live in a constant state of emergency, in a one-man rule.

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