ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday called early presidential and parliamentary elections for June, a move that will usher in a new political system increasing the powers of the president earlier than scheduled.
Erdogan announced, following a meeting with Devlet Bahceli, the leader of Turkey’s main nationalist party, that elections originally scheduled for November 2019 will now be held on June 24.
He said the new system needs to be implemented quickly in order to deal with a slew of challenges ahead, including Turkey’s fight against Kurdish insurgents in Syria and Iraq.
Turkey is switching from a parliamentary system to a presidential system that increases the powers of the president, following a narrowly approved referendum last year. The changes take effect with the next election.
“Be it the cross-border operations in Syria, or incidents of historic importance centered in Syria and Iraq, they have made it imperative for Turkey to overcome uncertainties quickly,” Erdogan said, in apparent reference to the aspirations for independence by Kurds in both countries.
The snap elections were called a day after Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party and an Erdogan ally — made a surprise call for snap elections in the summer.
Bahceli argued there’s “no point in prolonging this any longer,” citing efforts by unnamed groups to foment chaos in Turkey.
Erdogan, who has moved to further tighten his grip on politics since a failed coup attempt in 2016, needs a 51 percent majority to be re-elected in the first round of the presidential election. Earlier this year, his ruling his conservative, Islamic-rooted Justice and Development party reached an election alliance with Bahceli’s MHP.
The call for an early election comes as nationalist sentiment is running high over Turkey’s recent military operation in Syria that ousted Syrian Kurdish forces from a northern enclave. Ankara has labeled the Syrian Kurdish fighters as terrorists because of their affiliation with outlawed Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey.
In a related development, Turkey’s parliament was to vote Wednesday on whether to prolong the state of emergency that was declared after the failed July 2016 coup.
Parliament was widely expected to extend the state of emergency for a seventh time despite calls at home and abroad for it to end.
The European Union, which Turkey seeks to join, says Turkey is backsliding on bringing its laws into line with EU standards and has called for the country to lift its state of emergency. Last month, a U.N. report concluded that Turkey’s state of emergency had led to human rights violations, including arbitrary detentions and dismissals, torture and ill-treatment.
Turkey’s main opposition party accuses the government of misusing its emergency powers to erode democracy and arrest government critics. Its supporters have staged sit-in protests this week across Turkey to demand an end to the emergency declaration.
The government has asked Parliament to extend the emergency decree, arguing that security threats from a movement led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accuses of masterminding the coup, have not abated. It also cites Turkey’s continued struggle against Kurdish rebels and other groups.
Gulen has denied any ties to the failed coup.