How Erdogan Made Turkey’s Next Election Like No Other

The most pivotal election in modern Turkish history will mark the abolition of the prime minister’s role and the coronation of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s presidential office as the nexus of political power. The early poll on June 24 will cap Erdogan’s years-long drive to overturn almost a century of parliamentary rule. Now the question is: Can any opposition candidate wage a credible challenge to Erdogan?

1. What’s so special about these elections?

Last year, Erdogan narrowly won public approval for a package of constitutional amendments that will transform Turkey from a parliamentary democracy into an executive presidential system. Under those amendments, the change takes effect at the next presidential vote. That was scheduled for November 2019, but Erdogan surprised many in Turkey on April 18 by calling early elections for parliament and the presidency. Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, had never before called early elections in the nearly 16 years it’s been in power.

2. What prompted the early elections?

Erdogan cited “developments of historical importance in our region as well as the cross-border operation we’re carrying out in Syria” — the latter being a reference to Turkey’s military campaign against separatist Kurdish groups and Islamic State militants in neighboring Syria and Iraq. Many analysts had predicted an early vote, saying a deteriorating economic outlook would prompt Erdogan to change the date rather than risk seeking reelection in a downturn. The elections will come during a state of emergency that’s brought mass purges of political opponents and a severe crackdown on dissent that’s eliminated many independent or opposition news sources and made the country the world’s biggest jailer of journalists.

3. What happens after the vote?

Turkey’s parliamentary system will be swiftly transformed into a presidential system. The president will be anointed head of the executive branch with the power to issue decrees with the force of law, prepare the budget, dissolve parliament on the condition that new elections be held for the presidency and parliament simultaneously, and appoint high-level officials, including ministers and some top judges. While martial law would no longer exist, the president would be able to declare a similar state of emergency, giving authorities powers to restrict basic rights and freedoms.

4. Will Erdogan win?

While some polls suggest he may struggle to win more than 50 percent to give him a first-round victory, he remains Turkey’s most popular politician and may dominate in a second round run-off. As prime minister and now president, Erdogan’s leadership has been marked by economic advances that enabled his turn toward a more authoritarian style of leadership. For this vote, he is also backed by a nationalist opposition party, MHP, after the government changed laws to allow for election alliances. The snap elections gives the opposition only weeks to select candidates, decide on a strategy and get to full-steam campaigning. Fears about the fairness and credibility of the vote have been exacerbated by changes to the election laws. And that was even before the news that millions of Turks will be receiving checks from Erdogan’s government party a week before the election.

5. How have the electoral rules changed?

Erdogan has rewritten the rules to allow parties to band together. That’s a blessing for his nationalist ally, the MHP, which faced the humiliating possibility of falling below the 10 percent electoral threshold needed to seat anyone in parliament. The amendments also eliminate party observers at polling stations, allow authorities to appoint government officials to run them or relocate them on security grounds, let law-enforcement officials monitor voting, and permit the counting of unverified, unstamped ballots — an issue that clouded the 2017 referendum result. The government said those changes are necessary to secure the vote in Turkey’s southeast from the influence of Kurdish separatists.

6. What becomes of parliament?

It will continue on, though with limited oversight over the newly empowered executive branch. It will have 600 members — up from 550 currently — and a supermajority of at least 360 votes would be required to open an investigation into the president, his deputies or ministers. (In the event of a probe, the president wouldn’t be allowed to call for elections.) With 400 votes, the parliament could refer a case against the president to the country’s top court. The parliament could shorten, extend or lift a state of emergency declared by the president.

7. How long can the president serve?

Two consecutive five-year terms, but a loophole allows a third term if parliament calls snap elections sometime during the second term. Should that happen, Erdogan, who led Turkey as prime minister from 2003 until his election as president in 2014, could continue to dominate the nation’s politics until 2029.

8. How are financial markets taking all this?

The currency and Turkish markets rallied after Erdogan ordered the early elections, as investors welcomed a shortened period of political uncertainty from 18 months to just two. The exuberance was short-lived, however, amid concerns about an overheating economy, Turkey’s vulnerability to higher global interest rates, and the quality of economic policy under an executive presidency with few checks and balances.


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