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Erdogan Calls Early Turkish Elections in Bid to Solidify Power

Those changes were all approved in a referendum last year that Mr. Erdogan had campaigned for strenuously, with the obvious intention that he would be the first president to hold the enhanced office.

Mr. Erdogan has since been urging members of his Justice and Development Party to work to build enough support for him to secure the election in the first round.

“Although its seems there are no serious issues arising as the president and the government are working in harmony, the diseases of the old system can confront us at every step,” Mr. Erdogan said in a speech broadcast live on television. “For our country to make decisions about the future more strongly and apply them, passing to the new governmental system becomes urgent.”

Minutes later, the Turkish Parliament approved a request from Prime Minister Binali Yildirim to extend the state of emergency — which has been in force since the failed coup — for another three months, the Turkish news agency Anadolu reported.

While the coup attempt was violent — nearly 250 people died, including Mr. Erdogan’s election campaign manager and close friend — critics have since accused him of using the extended powers under emergency rule to crack down on political opponents and dissent.

Tens of thousands have been jailed, accused of links to Fethullah Gulen, the Islamist cleric accused of masterminding the coup, or to other designated terrorist organizations. And over 100,000 people have been suspended from public-sector jobs. Mr. Gulen has denied involvement in the coup.

Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli said Wednesday that the government had identified three thousand top-level officers belonging to the Gulen movement inside the military, and was preparing to purge them soon with a government decree, the Anadolu news agency reported.

Mr. Erdogan said that events in Syria and Iraq, both countries in which Turkey has deployed troops, had made a transition to the presidential system more urgent. He also said the economic situation demanded certainty.

“With the cross-border operations we maintain in Syria, and also historical events happening in the area centered around Syria and Iraq, it became a must for Turkey to climb over the uncertainty as soon as possible,” the president said.

“In a period where developments about Syria accelerate, and we have to make very important decisions on issues from macroeconomic equilibrium to big investments, it is a must to drop the election issue from the agenda as soon as possible,” he added.

Yet political opponents and commentators have been predicting for months that Mr. Erdogan would call early elections as soon as he could be sure of winning. He is known to closely watch opinion polls and has enjoyed a bounce in his personal rating since ordering military operations against Kurdish militias in the northern Syrian enclave of Afrin in January.

The country also enjoyed over 7 percent growth in the last quarter of 2017. Yet there are signs that the economy is faltering. Inflation remains persistently high, which hurts many of Mr. Erdogan’s own supporters.

The snap election was also seen as a move to undercut political opponents.

Mr. Erdogan’s announcement came after discussions with Devlet Bahceli, the leader of Turkey’s main nationalist party, the Nationalist Movement Party, which has entered a formal alliance with Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., for the elections.

Mr. Bahceli said that he supported early elections for the stability of the country and the economy. But he also seems to be concerned with fending off a rival for the nationalist vote, Meral Aksener, who split from his party and formed her own party, the Good Party, last year, according to Turkish media reports.

The early timing of the election now could prevent Ms. Aksener from running, since her new party may not be considered to have passed the required six months from its first party congress.

Ms. Aksener, a former interior minister, has nevertheless declared her intention to challenge Mr. Erdogan for president and field candidates for Parliament.

Turkey’s largest opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, or C.H.P., was caught flat-footed by the announcement, and has not yet selected a candidate for president. Its leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, ruled out running for the presidency last year.

Engin Altay, the deputy head of C.H.P.’s parliamentary group, told a Turkish television station that a candidate would be chosen within 15 days.

The pro-Kurdish party, the People’s Democratic Party, or H.D.P., has particularly suffered under the state of emergency, with nine members of Parliament in jail, including their popular former leader Selahattin Demirtas and many mayors removed from their posts. The party nevertheless has appointed new leaders and declared itself ready for elections.

Sezai Temelli, the co-chairman of the party, said in a tweet: “June 24 is not early, but a panic election. The government is impotent.”

To win outright in the first round of the election, Mr. Erdogan will need to secure 51 percent of the vote. His personal ratings have been closer to 40 percent in recent opinion polls.

The constitutional changes to create a new presidential system were agreed in a controversial referendum in April last year, which Mr. Erdogan only barely won with a 51 percent yes vote, versus 49 percent who voted no.

Ms. Aksener was a prominent leader of the no campaign and has vowed to assemble similar broad support for the coming elections.

The referendum was criticized as unfair by opposition parties and independent election monitors. Since then, Mr. Erdogan has moved to exercise greater control over the High Election Board and the electoral law, the parties warned.

“The alliance cannot secure 50 percent,” Yalcin Dogan wrote in the online news outlet T24. “So they are changing the structure of the High Election Board and the electoral law in a manner that is against the universal democratic rules. However, the Good Party remains a complete nightmare.”

Source: NYT > World

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