Analysis. Turks will go to the polls a year ahead of schedule to choose a parliament and solidify the new extraordinary powers of the president. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s critics smell fear: “The new electoral date indicates panic.”

Erdogan, fearing challengers, calls early elections

Turkey will return to the polls. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called early elections for June 24 to choose the parliament and a president. Crucially important elections, originally planned for the end of 2019, they will end the transformation of Turkey from a parliamentary republic to a presidential republic, which began with the contested referendum on April 15, 2017.

The new constitutional arrangement delivers enormous new powers to the office of the president. And it is precisely for this reason that he’s rushing to close the deal. Erdogan called the present government system “an illness,” while the new government, with him at the helm, will be able to overcome “the developments in Syria and the uncertainties in Turkey.”

Meanwhile, the parliament ratified the seventh extension of the state of emergency, in force during the elections despite the explicit opposition from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Opposition parties are closing ranks and say they are ready to respond to a move they say is dictated by fear. According to these groups, Erdogan has accelerated the timetable because he fears he won’t be able to hold power until 2019. There’s downward pressure on the popularity of the government because of the economic situation, thanks in part to military campaigns in Rojava.

While the GDP growth rate remains very high (over 7 percent), unemployment is above 10 percent and above all the value of the Turkish lira in decline compared to the dollar and the euro. Turkey is not able to self-finance its own impetuous growth and must resort to foreign investments, which are increasingly onerous due to the weak currency. Economists believe the situation is unsustainable in the medium term.

The leader of the opposition CHP, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, declared that 2018 will be the year of the return to democracy, while the left-wing party HDP announced its intention to face the new elections with the same spirit of June 2015, when it obtained the highest consensus in history of the pro-Kurdish parties. But they’re still operating in a toxic environment, having to deal with a repression that has imprisoned their leader and over 10,000 members and activists, undermining their capacity for mobilization.

A small party that is taking the stage is Saadet, an Islamist movement led by Temel Karamollaoglu, which aims to undermine Erdogan’s supremacy over Turkish political Islam. “The new electoral date indicates panic,” he taunted. “The government admits that it cannot conduct the country for more than two more months.”

At the center of attention is above all the right-wing party Iyi, formed after a breakoff of disgruntled nationalists among the Erdogan-Bahceli allies. Polls suggest a strong capacity for Iyi to erode the consensus around the AKP-MHP alliance. But the choice of early elections risks putting them out of the game: Turkish law requires a party to hold its national congress at least six months before being able to participate in the elections.

The rising star of the Turkish right-wing Meral Aksener accepts the challenge: “I did not think they were so afraid of us. We will participate. We held the congress on Dec. 10, so from June 10 we can run.” But it is not so simple: the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK), the same body that during the referendum validated the non-stamped ballots and delivered the victory to Erdogan, has yet to rule on it. Complicated bureaucratic delays, which had already led the YSK to refuse the registration of the Iyi Party on Dec. 14 last year.

President of the YSK Sadi Guven said it is not known which parties will be able to compete and that the courts must make the decision. The snap elections threaten to take Erdogan’s most potent critics out of the game.

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