Early elections on the horizon, or not?

As Turkey’s system crisis intensifies, so does the guessing game. Will there be an early election, or not? The answer to this question largely depends on where the respondent, or rather the fortune-teller, politically and emotionally stands.

Most of those predicting early polls in Turkey are eclipsed by wishful thinking, ready to believe any voter poll, despite the lack of reliable surveys, with the exception of those conducted by KONDA and Metropoll. And the others, with questionable methods and non-transparency, are out there mainly to serve opposition parties’ interests, because they are commissioned by them.

What is a known fact at the moment is that there is an ongoing “electorate impasse.” Both camps have around 48-52 percent support, as indicated by KONDA chairman Bekir Ağırdır in a recent column published by Oksijen weekly.

As for what Erdoğan knows by way of the polls his party regularly commissions, we do not know much. Opposition and pundits may be illusory of the AKP-MHP bloc losing support, but Erdoğan in his usual cool-headed manner keeps the data for himself.

Back to the question. Those who argue a snap or early poll cite one major factor: the economic crisis is slipping out of Erdoğan’s hands. The Central Bank is in shambles, as are the main bulks of key bureaucracy and institutions. Lira is facing a free-fall, treasury is empty, foreign investment is deeply mistrustful. The country is managed on the motto of “salvage the day”. The vortex of the crisis also inspires a sense of “looting” amongst the irregular segments of the business sector, rubbing salt to the wound.

CHP, the main opposition party, guesses wildly that the government will not be able to keep things together until after November. But, apart from some minor announcements by the High Electoral Board (YSK), CHP figures fall short of finding bases for these predictions.

AKP-MHP bloc, however, are sticking even closer together, repeating that the polls will be held at their regularly scheduled date in 2023, the centennial of the republic. MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli reiterated the other that the far right’s party’s presidential candidate for the elections was Erdoğan.

This definitely can be taken as one of the very few fixed elements of what will take place, should the elections be held, sooner or later.

Back to the question, again. Objectively seen, there are no reasons why Erdoğan should consider a snap or early poll. Unless he sees a guarantee that he will be re-elected as president. The economic crisis, perhaps the only element of opposition he can’t control, keeps him shattered and determined to win one more time. The EU’s lack of tough stance on his foreign policy errors has given the Turkish leader partly what he needs in terms of time.

Unbothered by the centrist opposition at home, he and Bahçeli intensify the preparations for an election in Erdoğan’s, and not parliament’s choosing

Soon, a bundle of key changes in the Election and Political Parties’ Laws are to be introduced and passed through the General Assembly. We don’t know yet what those changes in detail are, but there will be AKP-MHP-induced changes aimed at securing an election outcome in their favour.

These changes may also bolster an already subordinated YSK to help engineer a pre-election ground that may mean “amputating” arbitrarily the opposition bloc’s candidate lists, simply to dwarf them.

The nub here is, that exactly a year must have passed before these legislative changes go into effect. So say if parliament passes them by May 2020, the next presidential and parliamentary elections favourable to Erdoğan-Bahçeli duo will probably take place in late summer or in the autumn of 2021.

Moreover, Erdoğan’s recent pledge for a new constitution is something to be taken seriously, not as an end, but as a means to declare a new war against the opposition in the election campaign. It is fertile material for further polarisation. Remember that impasse is given at 48-52 percent bandwidth, and will most probably to remain so.

It is not that easy to predict what developments could force Erdoğan to announce early elections, and how.

The president has immense powers, and, again, for him, only the presidential part of the elections matter. He knows Bahçeli will not betray him and he is also well aware that the disarrayed opposition camp will be struggling to come to a consensus about a common contender against him.

Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş is to be kept in jail by then, and Meral Akşener, leader of the Good Party, which is slightly on the rise beyond 12 percent support, seems already determined to challenge him, whether the other components of the opposition bloc agree or not. So early elections are looking rather far-fetched, odds at the time being on Erdoğan’s side. Let us see if he can grab bull that is the Turkish economy by the horn.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.