On the 18th of April 2018, the president of the Republic of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, together with an opposition party’s leader, Devlet Bahçeli, announced that a decision has been made to have an early election for both the parliamentary elections, and the presidential elections of Turkey, who will hold higher power than his/her predecessors and will not work together with a prime minister. The decision to switch from a parliamentary system to a presidential system came in 2017, when a referendum took place and the majority of votes turned out to be in favor of a change.
The transition period was supposed to last for 2 years, with the election date being decided as the 3rd of November, 2019. The selected date would give opposition leaders such as the rooted Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (Republican People’s Party) and the up-and coming İYİ Parti, who were expected to run a strong campaign, enough time to prepare their agendas and decide on a candidate and run their election campaigns.
According to the explanations that were made by AKP(Justice and Development Party), the ruling party and president Erdoğan, the main motivation for the change of date was the current state of the Turkish economy, mainly the worsening exchange rate, decrease in foreign direct investment and the current deficit. While these problems have occurred during the ruling of Erdoğan and his party, they were quick to dismiss any wrong doing, and suggested that these were due to the long transition period from the parliamentary system to the presidential system, and the political uncertainty that was caused by it.
The announcement for the change of date was met with heavy criticism from the opposing parties, their leaders and also many Turkish people, as they claimed that the said reasons behind the decision were baseless. While political uncertainty can certainly contribute to the mentioned problems by Erdoğan and Bahçeli, it is important to remember that the Justice and Development Party have been in charge since 2001. Therefore, looking deeper into the reasons behind this decision to move the elections up, the whole situation paints itself as more of a power move.
After coming to power in 2001, the Justice and Development Party AKP, has won 12 elections in total, running against several different parties (and candidates) as their opposition. The broken-down state of the Turkish opposition parties has been apparent, as the aggressive and assertive campaigning that AKP engaged in for years have eclipsed the social justice focused passive agendas that their rivals pursued. AKP’s heavy focus on helping the “little people”, following a religiously charged agenda with a vulgar and volatile way of handling foreign relations raised them and their then-leader Erdoğan to cult hero status in Turkey.
However, with the establishment of İYİ Parti, lead by Turkish politician Meral Akşener, many experts believe that the ruling party could face stronger opposition in 2019, initial intended date of the elections to take place. The party was formed by prominent former members of Turkey’s main established parties, and its agenda mainly focuses on the restoration of the parliamentary and judiciary systems together with complementary institutions that forms the government.
After its formation, members of İYİ Parti have engaged in assertive campaigning, by spreading their so called anti-Erdoğan agenda across the nation, attracting voters from different parts of the country and aimed to place themselves in primary position to establish the party into a powerhouse opposition. However, it is important to remember that the party was established on the 25th of October 2017 and needed time to achieve their set goals before the elections in 2019, therefore a change in the date for the election was likely to damage their chances of running a successful election campaign, cutting their preparation time from 24 months to just 8.
Together with the İYİ Parti situation, members of the main opposition party CHP were also displeased with the passive demeanor of their leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Having lost 12 elections as the main opposition to AKP, there were speculations regarding CHP advocating for a different party candidate, rather than advocating for Kılıçdaroğlu. Muharrem İnce, a fierce politician who is an MP of CHP for his hometown, Yalova, was regarded as a prominent candidate by the main opposition party members. However, similar to the situation of İYİ Parti, the main opposition needed time and planning to run their long expected successful election campaign, and the decision for an early election now stands in their way.
The above-mentioned issues for the opposition left many experts and citizens displeased. President Erdoğan and AKP are currently being accused of using their influence and political power to assist themselves to reinforce Erdoğan into becoming the first ever “president” of Turkey. Together with this, Erdoğan and AKP’s influence on the problems that are being faced by the Turkish economy have been heavily discussed, and Erdoğan’s vulgar behavior towards the European Union, decision to attack Syria to intervene with domestic terror threats, and aggressive attitude regarding holding more power and influence were pointed out as the main arguments behind them. Regardless, the upcoming elections in Turkey will heavily influence the growth trajectory of the country, and will have an enormous impact on the political identity of the country as a whole.