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Turkey's last shot at democracy

April 18, 2018

Turkey is heading for early elections on June 24. The winner of the crucial vote will wield extraordinary power, which is exactly what President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants, says DW's Seda Serdar.

Erdogan announces a new election
Image: Reuters/M. Cetinmuhurdar

In just two months time Turkey will go to the polls for parliamentary and presidential elections. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared June 24 as the date for the snap vote. What is the rush?

Rumors of snap elections have been in the air for some time, though both Erdogan and members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) were adamant about sticking to the previously scheduled date of November 2019. But when Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli, an Erdogan ally, called for snap elections it became clear that the AKP indeed did not want to wait until late next year.

Read more: Turkey's EU membership hopes at an all-time low

It is hard to imagine that Bahceli would take such a step without Erdogan's approval, even though both sides deny that is how this win-win scenario came about. Bahceli appears as if he is taking the lead, contrary to critical voices who say he only follows and does as Erdogan wishes. At the same time, Erdogan saves face and gets what he wants, while also strengthening his ally.

Unease at home

Still, the decision comes as a surprise and there is very little time for the parties to prepare for the elections. In his brief statement, Erdogan said that because of uncertainties, including Turkey's military engagement in Syria, the malfunctioning old electoral system needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

Seda Serdar
DW's Seda Serdar

The intervention in Syria scored Erdogan points at home initially, but with the future of the operation becoming murkier by the day, it's unclear what further benefit it will give him at the polls. Meanwhile, the Turkish lira is rapidly losing value and its influence on the economy is another problem the AKP is trying to pretend doesn't exist. Fresh elections will allow the AKP's many shortcomings, including the failing justice system, the governments' increasing control over the media and the deteriorating relations with Turkey's international allies, to fade into the background.

Lack of unity

Unhappy with all the developments in the country in recent years, Turkey's opposition parties jumped at the opportunity for snap elections. But are they really ready?

Read more: After Yücel, Germany looks to others detained in Turkey

The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) doesn't have a presidential candidate, nor is there a name in sight. The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) is still trying to heal the wounds inflicted by the arrests of its leaders and members. As for the newly formed IYI Party, even though their leader Meral Aksener stands out as a strong candidate against Erdogan, it is not clear if they will be able to fulfill the necessary legal requirements and be allowed to enter the elections by June 24. If they were to be blocked, that could backfire on Erdogan and Bahceli, who could lose supporters to the IYI Party, which was formed by ex-MHP members.

Currently, the only issue which unites the opposition is that they all want to maintain the parliamentary system. Erdogan and Bahceli, on the other hand, are pushing to enact the constitutional changes granting more powers to the presidency, which were approved in a referendum last year, but were not due to take effect until after the previously scheduled November 2019 vote.

The country will be going into the election under a state of emergency. Erdogan will try to contain and control all elements of the campaign until June 24. What the opposition needs is unity, to safe-guard the ballot boxes at all cost, and a strong candidate. Under the current political landscape, with no other candidates in sight, the CHP and HDP might have a chance to help turn the tables by uniting to support IYI Party leader Aksener, a rising political star since the party's formation. Still, Turkish voters need more than just a strong leader. They need someone who can fix the economy and bring stability to the country.