Is an early election now a real possibility in Turkey?

Is an early election now a real possibility in Turkey?

Once the word of an early election is out in Turkey, it usually happens.

Now the word is out once again, and it was first spoken by none other than Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli.

In all three of the most recent early elections in Turkey, it was Bahçeli who predicted it first.

In 2002 July it was Bahçeli who said it, 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, now president) Tayyip Erdoğan’s government to hold an early election. In the July election that year, the AK Parti reinforced its power and, with MHP backing, subsequently elected Abdullah Gül as Turkey’s 11th president.

Then in June 2015, on the night of the election day on June 7 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 election, the AK Parti regained a parliamentary majority and started to press for the executive presidential system, which Erdoğan has targeted since 2007.

And now it is again Bahçeli who on Jan. 11, during voting on the constitutional amendments for a shift to the presidential system (which could not be possible without Bahçeli’s support for Erdoğan), said parliament “should be renewed” if it does not vote in favor of a referendum.

Parliament needs to produce at least 330 votes to take the draft to a referendum. As the AK Parti’s votes are not enough to reach this, the MHP’s backing is vital. Bahçeli came up with the early election suggestion once initial results started to show that there was some wavering in the ranks of both the AK Parti and the MHP under the strong opposition of the Republican People’s Party (CHP).

The immediate interpretation of Bahçeli’s words in Ankara was that he wanted to warn his own MPs that if the referendum was not voted for, they could all – especially the dissidents - lose their seats in a few months’ time, instead of keeping them until the regular next election scheduled for 2019. 

Perhaps surprisingly, the AK Parti immediately echoed the MHP leader’s demand for an early election if the referendum failed, probably with a similar motivation.

It seems the threat worked. The “yes” votes on the constitutional amendment articles have gained stability at over 340, a clear margin above the 330 necessary.

Also surprisingly, the CHP has also raised the possibility of going to an early election first before discussing the constitutional shift in a renewed parliament, perhaps after the lifting of the state of emergency, declared after the foiled military coup of July 15, 2016.

The final remark on Jan. 13 was made by President Erdoğan, who said he was “against early elections in principle” but it could be an option “if parliament is not functioning properly.” 

So Erdoğan is not ruling out an early election, without specifying whether it would be with or without a referendum.

Yusuf Halaçoğlu, a dissident MHP deputy who has said he has not changed his “No” vote despite an effort to persuade him by Bahçeli, recently made an interesting analysis of the situation. He claimed that the AK Parti would like to have an early election, even if parliament and later the public in a referendum approve the executive presidential system. He said it wanted to do this in order to “clean out” certain names who might have connections –even if only in the past - with Fethullah Gülen, the Islamist preacher living in the U.S. who is accused of masterminding last July’s coup attempt. That is also applicable for positions in the bureaucracy and the judiciary.

Actually, Halaçoğlu’s analogy could be valid for all parties. Almost all party leaderships and grassroots are not happy with the current parliamentary groups formed after the November 2015 early election.

So at present it seems that an early election in Turkey certainly cannot be ruled out.