Turkish Islamist Party Calls Parliamentary Elections to ‘Overcome Uncertainties’

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suprised many observers by moving forward the date of Turkey's elections to June this year
AFP ADEM ALTAN

The Turkish Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) announced on Wednesday that it would hold snap parliamentary elections on June 24, expected to reinforce President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s control of national policy.

The nationwide election will be the first to occur since the mass arrests of leaders of the Kurdish-friendly Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in 2016 for allegedly supporting the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The HDP significantly undermined AKP control of the Turkish parliament in the June 2015 elections, before Erdogan called a repeat election in November that undid the gains of opposition parties.

Erdogan told reporters on Wednesday that the election was particularly necessary in light of “Operation Olive Branch,” the Turkish invasion of northern Syria to eradicate the U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ). Turkish troops have overrun and now control Afrin, a city at the heart of Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava), and have threatened to enter nearby Manbij, where U.S. troops are stationed helping their Kurdish allies train to fight the Islamic State.

“Turkey’s cross-border operation in Syria and the situation in both Syria and Iraq obliged Turkey to overcome uncertainties as soon as possible,” Erdogan said on Wednesday. “At a time when developments in Syria have accelerated and we have to take very important decisions, from macroeconomic equilibrium to large investments, the election issue should be taken off the table as soon as possible.”

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, who technically leads the parliament, confirmed that preparations for elections will “start immediately.” For the election to occur on June 24, the Turkish Parliament must approve a bill calling for the vote. Lawmakers will debate the bill on April 20, according to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.

The ruling AKP has already announced that it would begin holding election rallies in May. “The campaign process will likely start around May 15, we will have big rallies attended by the President and the Prime Minister,” Islamist party spokesman Mahir Unal said on Thursday, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. Unal claimed that “the latest polls,” which Anadolu did not name, show the AKP with a lead of 55.6 percent of the vote over all other parties.

AKP leaders have expressed full confidence that they will win.

“Early polls will positively affect the economy. There will be no need for run-off elections. The result of the [presidential] elections is now certain after the reaction of the markets,” deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said on Thursday. “Whoever wins the elections on June 24 will have a perspective for five years. There will be no question of whether or not a government can be formed after the polls.”

He joked that opposition parties seem “to have been caught in the rain without an umbrella.”

Turkey’s major parties are the AKP, the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which typically votes with the AKP and called for this summer’s election.

Making its debut in this year’s election will be the İYİ (Good) Party, formed in 2017 by former Minister of the Interior Meral Aksener after her expulsion from the MHP for opposing pro-Erdogan leader Devlet Bahçeli. The İYİ party stands against Erdogan’s push to switch the nation away from a parliamentary system and towards a presidential one, which would grant Erdogan sweeping executive powers without any of the checks on his control that exist in presidential systems like that of the United States.

Aksener told reporters Wednesday that she expects her party to do well. The İYİ Party will run in the election and will win,” she said. On Tuesday, before the official parliamentary push for elections, Aksener insisted, “there is nothing to be alarmed about from our point of view. We have come to this stage after overcoming difficulties in the face of all the heavy smearing launched against us.”

Turkey last held parliamentary elections in 2015. In June of that year, the secularist, pro-religious-minority HDP gained significantly, earning 12 percent of the vote and helping chip down the number of AKP members of parliament to fewer than 276 seats.

Shortly following their victory, Erdogan began accusing the party of collaborating with terrorists for opposing the military takeover of southern Turkey’s Diyarbakir city, home to much of the nation’s Kurdish minority. Erdogan also called for a second election in November, which the AKP won handily after two million new voters mysteriously appeared on the rolls, more than the total number of new voters registered between 2011 and 2015.

A year later, the two co-chairs of the HDP and a dozen other leaders of the party were arrested for allegedly collaborating with the PKK. Most remain in prison today.

“I don’t care if they call me a dictator or whatever else,” Erdogan said shortly following the arrests. “It goes in one ear, out the other.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

.