Turkey will hold early presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan formally announced on Friday, three months after the devastating earthquakes that killed more than 47,000 people.
"May this decision benefit our country and our people," Erdogan said in televised remarks from the presidential palace in Ankara.
The country had been expected to go to the polls on June 18, but Erdogan cited the Muslim Hajj pilgrimage, school holidays and university entrance exams coinciding in mid-June as among the main reasons for moving the vote forward a month.
There had also been speculation that the vote would have to be postponed as the February 6 quakes have left millions of people homeless across southern Turkey.
Erdogan's biggest test
The next election is widely seen as the most consequential vote of Turkey's post-Ottoman history, giving voters a stark choice between keeping Erdogan's Islamic-rooted party in power until 2028 or handing the reins back to an alliance led by the country's main secular party.
Erdogan has been a popular leader since he was first elected as prime minister in 2003 and president in 2014, but he has faced stiff criticism for his increasingly autocratic leadership.
His crackdown on dissent was ramped up following a failed coup in July 2016, leading to around 150,000 civil servants being fired and more than 50,000 people arrested.
The Turkish economy has been in crisis for two years, partly as a result of Erdogan's interference in monetary policy, which spurred inflation to a 24-year high of more than 85% in October.
In recent days, the Turkish lira has fallen to a record low of nearly 19 to the US dollar, as the aftermath of last month's powerful earthquakes took its economic toll.
Delayed reaction to quake could haunt Erdogan
Erdogan's government has also been censured for its response to the quakes and lack of preparedness in a country that sits on several seismic fault lines.
Experts say that lax enforcement of building codes is a major reason why the disaster was so deadly.
Erdogan has conceded shortfalls in the early stages of the response to the quakes but said that rescue efforts were hampered by winter weather and the destruction.
He has promised to rebuild tens of thousands of homes within the year.
The president said he would ban music at election campaign events as a mark of respect. He ordered candidates from his AK Party to contribute to the emergency fund for earthquake recovery work.
"Our agenda during the election [campaign] will focus on efforts to heal the wounds of earthquake victims and to compensate for economic and social harm," he said.
Few details were initially available as to how the votes will be held in the quake-hit southeastern region. But the government said that people will be able to vote wherever they are living at the time of the election.
Six parties name single presidential opponent
The bloc has vowed to reverse many of Erdogan's policies on the economy, civil rights and foreign affairs.
They have also promised to abolish the presidential system which they say amounted to "one-man rule" since it was introduced in 2018.
The alliance is made up of a disparate array of parties, including nationalists, Islamists and conservatives.
A pro-Kurdish party has, so far, been excluded from the bloc because of some of the other opposition leaders' more nationalist views.
Polls suggest that both the presidential and parliamentary votes will be tight, with the opposition bloc running slightly ahead of the governing alliance.
The election date will become official when the country's supreme election authority YSK approves Erdogan's decision, which is expected after a presidential decree is published in the Official Gazette on Saturday.
If no candidate for the presidency secures more than 50% of the vote, a runoff will be held on May 28.
mm/fb (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)