Nationalist party takes Turkey to snap elections once again

Nationalist party takes Turkey to snap elections once again

A day after his alliance partner, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, asked for an early election to be held on Aug. 26, President Tayyip Erdoğan on April 18 announced that Turkey would hold parliamentary and presidential elections on June 24. It seems that the date was discussed by the two leaders during their rather short, approximately 30-minute meeting yesterday lunch time, a few hours before Erdoğan’s announcement.A day after his alliance partner, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, asked for an early election to be held on Aug. 26, President Tayyip Erdoğan on April 18 announced that Turkey would hold parliamentary and presidential elections on June 24. It seems that the date was discussed by the two leaders during their rather short, approximately 30-minute meeting yesterday lunch time, a few hours before Erdoğan’s announcement.

Both Bahçeli’s call for early elections and Erdoğan’s acceptance came as a surprise, as the president has repeatedly denied all suggestions of an early election, saying it would be held “on time” in November 2019. Actually, considering the date announced it would not be too wrong to call it a “raid-like” election rather than an “early” one, as there are now only 65 days left until voters to go to the ballot box.

Actually it has been Bahçeli’s MHP that has dragged Turkey to early elections in the three most recent examples. In July 2002 it was Bahçeli who called for an election, despite the fact that the MHP was part of the ruling coalition at the time. The election in November 2002 ended up bringing the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) to power and leaving the MHP out of parliament.

In April 2007, during the “presidential election crisis” in parliament, it was Bahçeli who urged (then prime minister) Erdoğan to hold an early election to refresh confidence. In the July election that year, the AK Parti was able to reinforce its power and, with MHP backing, subsequently elected Abdullah Gül as Turkey’s 11th president.

Then on the night of the June 7, 2015 election, when the AK Parti lost its parliamentary majority, it was Bahçeli again who said it would be better to go to an early election rather than form a coalition government. In the subsequent November 2015 election the AK Parti regained a parliamentary majority and started to press for the executive presidential system, which Erdoğan had been targeting since 2007.

Whenever Bahçeli has asked for an early election Turkey has gone to the polls, with one exemption. In January 2017 he again called for an early election, at a time when Erdoğan was trying to take the country to a referendum to give more executive powers to the presidency but lacking the necessary parliamentary support for it. Instead of going to snap polls Erdoğan sat and talked with Bahçeli. The MHP leader then supported Erdoğan in the subsequent parliamentary vote and in the April 2017 referendum, which Erdoğan narrowly won by less than two percentage points. 

That MHP-AK Parti cooperation paved the way to the alliance that we see today. So in 2017 Bahçeli did not get the early election but instead got something he perhaps wanted more: The ability to go to elections without the risk of dropping below the 10 percent national threshold (due to the MHP’s alliance with the AK Parti).

But why so early? A number of factors can be listed:

• Bahçeli asked what the point was in waiting another year for the shift to the executive presidential system, risking road accidents. Erdoğan apparently agreed, despite his original intention to enjoy his presidential term until November 2019. In return, it seems that Bahçeli might want some changes in the draft for restructuring the state apparatus, which he may have thought would work only to Erdoğan’s advantage.

• The economy is not going well. Growth is high but so are the current account deficit and inflation, while the depreciation of the Turkish Lira continues. The recent debt restructuring demand of two big business groups, Ülker and Doğuş, has agitated other companies and created pessimism in the investment environment. The lira’s gaining of value shortly after Erdoğan’s snap poll announcement showed that the markets support early elections, in the hope that it would bring an end to uncertainties.

• The pace of the Turkish military’s operation in Syria against the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was recently completed. It is now time for diplomacy, which means nationalist feelings that raised during the operation in favor of the AK Parti and the MHP could potentially drop away in the coming months. Bahçeli therefore might have thought: The sooner the election the better.

• The AK Parti’s extended alliance with the MHP could further risk the continuity of support from conservative Kurdish voters for Erdoğan. The vote potential of the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is not likely to drop below the 10 percent threshold, despite all odds, according to pollster Adil Gür speaking to NTV yesterday.

Gür also said that with the current momentum it is possible that the AK Parti-MHP alliance could reach the 50 percent support necessary for the re-election of Erdoğan in the first round, while also dominating parliament. The two party leaders thus may not want to miss this opportunity.

Eyes are now on the candidates who will challenge Erdoğan for the presidency. Meral Akşener, who resigned from the MHP to form her İYİ (Good) Party, yesterday reiterated her candidacy. But on the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) front there is still no sign from leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu regarding the party’s nominee, although the clock continues to tick fast.

Murat Yetkin, hdn, Opinion, Turkey