Turkey: Why did Erdogan call early elections?

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Turkish voters are heading to the polls on June 24, in an early election held against a backdrop of an ongoing state of emergency and a declining lira, as well as shifting international alliances and increasing involvement in Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the snap poll in mid-April, moving it more than 18 months earlier than planned, together with his main ally, far-right leader Devlet Bahceli. The polls were originally scheduled for November 3, 2019.

The vote will mark the first time that parliamentary and presidential elections will be held under a new system which will give 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 constitutional changes passed in the referendum give the next president new powers, such as appointing vice presidents, ministers, high-level officials and senior judges. They also allow the president to 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 been stressing 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 had said while announcing the polls.

“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, Syria war

In late January, Turkish forces and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters started 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 has also been upset with its NATO ally over of its support for the group.

Meanwhile, Turkey has been working with Iran and Russia to end the Syrian war, while its cooperation with Moscow has expanded in multiple areas ranging from energy to defence.

There has also been economic worries going on in the country. Since the beginning of the year, the Turkish lira has depreciated more than 20 percent against dollars, hitting a hit a low of 4.93 against the US dollar.

Erdogan, who has been in power for over 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 stood at a skyrocketing 69 percent. Last year, it was at 12 percent.

Yet, financial concerns remain, and several analysts described Erdogan and Bahceli’s decision to move the elections forward as a rational move aimed at increasing their alliance’s chances to win both 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 decisions for the snap polls.

“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 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,” added Mahcupyan.

Bahceli is seen by many as the main reason why Turkey is going to early polls [Reuters]

Taha Akyol, a political analyst and columnist, agreed, adding that the fear of the potential popularity of 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 told Al Jazeera.

“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.”

‘Right track’

Others argued that the move was taken 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 in the right track with a strong presidential government,” she told Al Jazeera.

“The aim of the upcoming polls are 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.”

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 the 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 one.

Meanwhile, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), IYI Party, conservative Felicity Party (SP) and centre-right Democratic Party (DP) formed their own alliances despite their poles apart backgrounds and ideologies. The Nation Alliance, however, will race in the presidential election with individual candidates, including IYI Party leader Meral Aksener and CHP senior Muharrem Ince. 

And pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) will compete without any alliances in the parliamentary polls and with its imprisoned ex-coleader Selahattin Demirtas in presidential race.

Emergency decree

The polls will be held under the state of emergency, which has been in place since July 2016 after around 300 people were killed during a failed coup attempt

Ankara blames the movement of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based self-exiled religious leader, for the attempted coup.


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 that under the state of emergency, more than 150,000 people had been taken into custody, 78,000 arrested and over 110,000 civil servants dismissed. Turkish authorities say that some 40,000 have been reinstated in the process.

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 bid as a pretext to silence opposition in the country.

The government says that 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.

Ankara blames its western allies for not understanding and taking seriously the “terrorist threat” on Turkey coming from the movement of Gulen and PKK.

Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_Uras

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