Turkey: Could there be an early election? If so, what will happen?

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Translated by Melissa Clissold

Turkey is going through a serious crisis that continues to deepen. And as an escape route, the first thing that comes to mind is an early election. However, it seems that for the first time President Erdoğan appears to be distant to this idea. Yet, he may be obliged to go through with an early election… 

Hello, good day. I would like to talk about the possibility of an early election; this is actually a concept that has been discussed for some time. Today Murat Yetkin came up with an interesting analysis regarding this on his blog. He said that Erdoğan is perhaps scared of, and does not want an early election for the first time during the period of rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP); Yetkin also listed the reasons for this. There are all truthful justifications; yet, as he has stressed, the topic of early elections is always on the table. Because, right now, there are plenty of crises that have become embedded with one another in Turkey. First of all, there is an economic crisis and it does not appear that there is any way to get out of this economic crisis.

Whether due to the management of the economy, or methods and precautions etc. that have been implemented up until today, it does not look like it will be easy to overcome this crisis. It looks as if Turkey will truly continue to shrink in terms of economy and that unemployment will increase. It is such a period, it is a period that is defining politics first hand and for a while now, the economy, inflation and unemployment are the top issues that the public are complaining about. From time to time we knew that these were being complained about, but they remained at the backdrop; now these issues have come to the forefront.  

For the first time, those who have, or haven’t voted for the AKP are enunciating these issues; this is a reality. We saw that the AKP and the Erdoğan – we saw this during the March 31 elections -, don’t really have much to say about this; it is for this reason he tried to turn this into an issue of survival or of fighting terrorism. Yet, when voters were asked, their concerns regarding terrorism is definitely not as high as it used to be. Of course, there are still apprehensions regarding this, but when compared to the economy, it is a much lower concern. Interestingly, one of the biggest complaints after the economy is with regards to the Syrians and asylum seekers in Turkey. More interestingly, there are findings that are appearing one after another that show that each party – including the party in power – have complaints regarding this topic. 

One of the reasons for complaining about the Syrians is political, but this comes across as economical once more. People can hold the Syrians accountable for economic problems, unemployment etc. because it is easy. If not, they would have to reckon directly with the administration; yet, because the Syrians are a more defenceless group, criticism is being directed at them openly. Therefore, when we look at things, there is a very serious economic crisis in Turkey right now and it is foreseeable that this crisis may deepen further.

In addition, there is a very serious political crisis. The AKP administration, the Erdoğan government seems to be in complete disarray. When we look at things, for all these years, from the end of 2002 to now, we can say that they have seriously gone from one end to another. The AKP, at first, had always talked about democracy, fundamental rights and freedoms, finding solutions to the Kurdish problem, integration with the West; but now we are face to face with an AKP in which extreme versions of Turkish nationalism have come to the forefront, and an AKP that has withdrawn into itself and having plenty of problems with the West – it has completely changed and there is no guarantee that it will stay on this path either. 

It would also be deceptive to say that Turkey, the Erdoğan administration – as some are claiming – has preferred the Eurasian route. Erdoğan, with his pragmatism is constantly trying to prolong the lifetime of the administration by changing his allies and discourse. Currently he is allies with Bahçeli, however, this institutionalised alliance that he formed in order to save himself, became the life line for the opposition. And the Nation Alliance was very successful against the People’s Alliance, during March 31 and June 23 elections and allowed for the big cities to be handed over to the Republican People’s Party (CHP). Therefore, Erdoğan has actually ended up sort of fouling his own nest. 

Of course, there are plenty of foreign policy problems that are being added to the already present economic, political and ideological crises such as the Syrian problem – at the forefront – Turkish-American relations etc. – it is a complete deadlock, a sharpening crisis. In normal circumstances, in democratic countries, the solution to these crises would be an election and people would head to the ballot box. Turkey experienced this during different periods, certain administrations changed after elections that took place and there have even been times where there have been opportunities to breathe even. 

Of course, the problem here is this: the person who can call an early election is Erdoğan himself. Yet Erdoğan will not approach this from concerns that it might bring about his end; it does not look like he will approach this idea. Yet, he may have to after a certain time. Why does he not want it? There are many problems, but of course the most recent is his harsh defeat on March 31 and June 23. No matter how much they stated that they managed to increase or protect their votes, they were unable to protect the big cities; and since the big cities leave their mark on local elections, the results there are a sign of their defeat. Most importantly, they lost the election that they repeated again, this time with a heavier loss and thus, Erdoğan actually managed to gift Turkish politics, and the opposition, with a figure such as Ekrem İmamoğlu. 

If there was an election today, Erdoğan would struggle; but when you look at certain public polls, it can still be seen that the AKP+ Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) can potentially reach more than 50% – this is in terms of elections for members of parliament, not presidential elections  – and in some of the research I have seen, the votes of all parties other than the AKP have managed to increase. Meaning, certain votes normally given to the AKP are starting to be shared by other parties. 

Of course, most of these votes are going to the MHP, we saw this in the last election. The weakening of the AKP strengthens the MHP, yet, it is not possible for the MHP to go above a certain percentage. 

Will the fact that the AKP+MHP votes appearing to be higher than 50 percent give Erdoğan a sense of security? I do not think so, because things may change drastically during the presidential election. Of course, there is the aspect of who the opposition will present as a candidate or as candidates. In the latest election, there was a broken opposition front; Erdoğan managed to wriggle past Muharrem İnce, Meral Akşener and Selahattin Demirtaş.

But we know that Kılıçdaroğlu and Temel Karamollaoğlu brought up the Abdullah Gül formula before the elections, but then renounced at the last minute. If an early election takes place, the opposition may come up with a new equation. It is as such: The AKP is disintegrating, in an inevitable manner, and it is understood that Davutoğlu and Babacan are heading towards forming separate parties. And perhaps Babacan or Davutoğlu’s party may take their place in the opposition block, allied block in one way or another. One of the reasons that Erdoğan may prefer to have an early election – and this does not appear to be a preference at the moment – may be this. Perhaps he may want to decrease the impact of those people who have broken away from his party  – some have already started to be dismissed – and go through with an election without waiting for Babacan and Davutoğlu to strengthen. 

If an election were to take place in normal times or if an election was to take place a few years later, Davutoğlu and Babacan – in theory – may have the chance to enter that election in a stronger position. Yet they may not be able to do this if an election took place six months later –  Erdoğan may be observing this. In that circumstance then, we will be faced with this aspect: If there is an early election, if Babacan and Davutoğlu do not have the power and opportunity to join this election, they may then end up supporting  the opposition block. Most importantly, they may join together with the opposition parties to present a joint candidate for the presidential elections; this may seriously come up in the agenda. In that case, when currently it looks as if the AKP+MHP can reach higher than 50% – and this is indeed what it looks like to me – if the opposition join together and manage to present a strong candidate  – including the HDP – then things may change. 

An early election is very risky for Erdoğan, yet it will become a lot riskier if he postpones it. Therefore, both options appear bad for Erdoğan. When you look at the article that Murat has written: Erdoğan does not want an early election because it is very risky. He mentions the reasons for these risks, we can list them all; this is the situation, the economy is the number one issue. Yet, we can easily say that Erdoğan’s chance will decrease a lot more if elections take place in a date in the future; because the economic situation will worsen, disintegration will continue etc. One of the most important reasons for Erdoğan not wanting an early election or any election at all is because he has nothing else to say – we saw this on March 31. Erdoğan could not say anything other than ‘survival’, he could not defend anything other than increasing polarisation, and he received his answer in a very harsh manner. 

Erdoğan is no longer carrying out a positive campaign, he cannot present a vision, his explanations are not believable, he cannot mention the economy; when he mentions the economy, he is met with frustration.  It will be remembered; before March 31, regarding the ‘state sales points’, I had defended that this was a huge mistake that Erdoğan had done, to show clearly the economic crisis; other people defended this too; but many people had also defended that Erdoğan was sort of discipling the economy through these sales points – yet this did not happen. The more the economy is talked about, Erdoğan loses. 

Maybe the one thing he can do is this: Accept the terrible situation regarding the economy, not blame external powers etc. for this, accept that this is not the work of a conspiracy theory, accept that this is a result of wrong policies  – even if he does not do this openly, he may ask for a certain degree of sacrifice from his citizens – yet I do not think this is something that Erdoğan will do. If he actually explains the severity of the situation, asks people to hang on for a few years and state that after suffering for a few years that due to change in policies Turkey will re-flourish once more, maybe some things could happen; but the first stage of this is Erdoğan accepting this situation, which it looks like he won’t. 

Consequently, even if there is an early election or not, there is a situation in which Erdoğan may lose. Therefore, we must focus on the question of who may win or lose. March 31 and June 23 showed us that the People’s Republic Party (CHP) candidates can win, but that was in municipalities. Now Turkey needs the opposition to show us that Turkey can win, Turkey can flourish once more, Turkey can fix its economy and can return to being a democratic country at peace with its neighbours and the world. As long as this doesn’t take place, Erdoğan may be able to protect his administration; but it looks as if we are face to face with an Erdoğan that is losing more and more power daily and also making the country lose power too. 

It does not look as if there will be an election today, it does not look as if there will be an early election; but it is not certain. He may be forced to go through with one, and Erdoğan entering an election with MHP may not be enough. Could a second party join? For example, could the İYİ Party (Good Party) join? We spoke of this last Monday, especially with regards to that photo; they may approach this, but I do not think that he can work together with the MHP and the İYİ Party. Which one will he push aside? All of these are separate issues of debate. Even if this appear possible at first glance, I do not think that this would be a serious pursuit. I do not think that Meral Akşener or the İYİ Party and İYİ Party fractions will allow for this to take place. 

A final option is of course Erdoğan giving up on his nationalistic discourse and once again developing a discourse that focuses on resolving the Kurdish problem – yet this would be an unrealistic expectation. Therefore, we are face to face with a losing Erdoğan and a Turkey in which it is not clear who will win. This will determine the fate of the election, even if it takes place early. According to me, there is a given, and that is that Erdoğan has lost; there is an aspect that is unknown and that is with regards to who will win in the place of Erdoğan? If the opposition can prepare the foundation for winning, together with the disintegration occurring within the AKP; then no matter what date the elections take place, we may witness the end of the Erdoğan administration. That is all I have to say, good day.  

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