2018 presidential/parliamentary elections in the Republic of Turkey: The decisive elections for AKP's destiny

 

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. IFIMES has prepared an analysis in view of the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in the Republic of Turkey that is scheduled for 24 June 2018. The most relevant and interesting sections from the comprehensive analysis entitled “2018 presidential/parliamentary elections in the Republic of Turkey: The decisive elections for AKP's destiny” are published below. 

2018 presidential/parliamentary election in the Republic of Turkey:

 

The decisive elections for AKP's destiny

 

On 18 April 2018, President of the Republic of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan unexpectedly announced the date of early presidential and parliamentary elections which will be held on 24 June 2018. Initially, regular elections were to be held in November 2019.

 

Announcement of early elections followed Erdoğan's meeting with chairman of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Devlet Bahçeli who had surprised the public a day earlier by calling for early elections. Analysts believe that Bahçeli's announcement was agreed in advance with the ruling conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP). This made the job easier for Erdoğan and his AKP party which had denied several times its intentions to change the election date.

 

Surmounting political and economic challenges

 

The ruling AKP and its ally MHP claim that the main motive for early election is to surmount Turkey's political and economic challenges, especially the reconstruction and transformation of its political system and the large-scale military operation of Turkish army against terrorist organisations in Turkey (PKK and FETO) and abroad, such as the Olive Branch operation in north Syria.

 

This was also confirmed by President Erdoğan at a press conference when he said that early elections are necessary due to historical events in the region.

 

The proposal was smoothly passed in the parliament where AKP holds 315 seats and its ally MHP 36 seats.  In order to pass the proposal 275 votes had to be obtained out of 550 seats in the Turkish parliament.

 

AKP is better prepared for elections than the opposition. The party carried out general conventions of all its subsidiaries in 81 Turkish provinces and established the pre-election coalition with MHP People's Alliance in February 2018.  The coalition will be most probably joined by another two extra-parliamentary parties: the pro-Islamic SAADET and the right-wing Great Unity Party (BBP).

 

The opposition less prepared for elections

 

On the other hand it can be concluded that the opposition is less prepared for the forthcoming election. The Republican People's Party CHP (131) as the  largest opposition party has realised only now that the elections are just around the corner. It has hastily organised meetings with the second largest opposition party in the Turkish parliament – People's Democratic Party HDP (48) led by the detained MPSelahattin Demirtaş – and the newly established party (the Good Party - IYI) led by Meral Akşener (5).

 

The eventual alliance between CHP and HDP would be a risky move by CHP that may completely destroy the already weakened party which is eager to continue Kemal Atatürk's heritage. The traditionally secular Turks are more inclined towards the right-centre and not in favour of alliance with the pro-Kurdish and leftist party, although at the same time their president and several leaders are in jail due to their silent support to the terrorist PKK party.

 

While Erdoğan is the only candidate of AKP and MHP, the opposition has still not presented its candidate for the presidential election.

 

Doubts have been expressed about the possibility of CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu running as candidate since he lacks the leader charisma and has never won the election for the past eight years.

 

The opposition has very little time to successfully compete with the incumbent President Erdoğan who is still the most popular politician in Turkey. Polls have shown that he has 42% to 45% chances to win the presidential election.

 

As far as the newly formed Good Party and its leader MeralAkşener are concerned, sharp debates have been triggered whether this party can take part in election. MHP's renegade and former Turkish interior minister Akşener was MHP's leading official before her dismissal.To overcome the legal barrier, 15 MPs left CHP to joint IYI (which has five unaffiliated MPs in the Turkish parliament) in order to obtain the necessary number of seats to form their own parliamentary group. This opened widely the door for the party and  its president to enter the parliament. Parties with 20 or more MPs are recognised as groups in the parliament, so they are entitled to participate in elections without any limitation. Such a party may also present its candidate for the presidential election.

 

According to Turkish constitution and the election law a party may participate at elections if it has operated for six months since its first national convention. The IYI party was established on 25 October 2017 and held its first convention in March 2018, which means it can only participate in elections as of September 2018. However, the transition of 15 MPs from CHP to IYI resolved this barrier.

 

Akşener will run as candidate at presidential election and try to compete with Erdoğan – according to some public opinion polls she will get 40% of votes while her party may win from 5% to 20% of votes (the election threshold is 10%).

 

The Good Party presents itself as a pro-European party that follows the ideals of the founder of the Turkish Republic Kemal Atatürk.  With such an approach it will win the votes of secularists who traditionally vote for CHP, while with its rightist rhetoric it will win the votes of nationalists from her former MHP party.

 

The decisive elections for AKP's destiny

 

The forthcoming elections will be historic as they will decide the destiny of AKP and its leader Erdoğan who has ruled the country for 16 years as Prime Minister and President of Turkey. If he wins again, he will enjoy full presidential executive power for five more years and for an additional five-year term of office according to the new constitutional amendment passed by a narrow majority at the 2017 referendum.

 

The election results will be tight. President Erdoğan is likely to be the relative winner. The number of seats his party will hold in the parliament which will now have 600 seats will depend on the political and economic situation on the election day and the ability of the opposition parties to consolidate in this very short period of only two months and convince the undecided voters from the 2017 referendum who are in favour of the previous parliamentary system. Those voters represented 49.5% of the electorate at the constitutional referendum, which was obviously a clear sign for AKP that there is no unified opinion as to the presidential system in Turkey. Erdoğan admitted that he felt they could not convince their traditional voters.

 

AKP's voters are sceptical about constitutional amendments, especially the part that covers parliamentary control over the government and the relations between the executive and judicial powers, which raises concerns about the imbalance between the branches of power to the benefit of the president of the state. This can be very dangerous in the long run, especially after the end of Erdoğan's era. The party is not enthusiastic about the diminished role of political parties and the parliament in the new system. The parliament will have the legislative and supervisory function, but it will not decide about the government and its politics.

 

The forthcoming elections in Turkey and its future are marked by the strongly polarised political scene. On one side there are Islamic conservative-nationalistic and other right-wing parties, while on the other side there are secular left-wing and national parties (such as the pro-Kurdish HDP).

 

AKP chose the right moment for early elections

In any case AKP has chosen the right moment for early elections, bearing in mind  the very sensitive position in Turkey's internal and external affairs. Despite the enviable economic growth of 7.4% Turkish lira has seen several falls. Turkey's growth is three times that of Germany (2.2%) and France (1.8%).

 

The dispute between President Erdoğan and the Governor of Turkish Central Bank Murat Çetinkay has exacerbated due to interest rates. Investors are concerned about the interference of politics in the central bank's independent functioning.

 

As far as foreign affairs are concerned Turkey has instable relations with all actors. At March 2018 summit in Varna Turkey did not get the green light to continue the negotiations for EU membership. EU officials reproached Erdoğan for authoritarianism, while they overlooked that the same characteristic is shown by Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Sebastian Kurz in Austria and the like minded in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.

 

Relations with the USA are critical due to Washington's support to Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) where the Kurdish YPG has a strong position. The Americans announced their withdrawal from Syria. They would be replaced by the Arab forces from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Egypt. However, all the three states have very fragile relations with Ankara because of their support to the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East. The Americans have not even consulted Turkey about this idea which has literally pushed Turkey out of the new Syrian architecture.

 

Turkey's relations with Russia and Iran are oscillating. Only ten days after the tripartite summit in Ankara which was held on 4 April 2018, that is on 14 April 2018, Turkey surprised Russia and Iran when it supported American attack against Syria. Pragmatic Russian and Iranian politicians regard Erdoğan as their tactical ally rather than a strategic partner in the region.

 

Ljubljana, 28 April 2018                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     



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