AKP heavyweight calls for postponement of elections due to major quakes, opposition deems it 'self-coup'

Turkey's ruling AKP heavyweight Bülent Arınç has demanded the postponement of elections due to major earthquakes that shook Turkey’s southeast on Feb. 6. Responding to the “unconstitutionality” criticisms of such a move, Arınç said “constitutions are not sacred texts.”

Duvar English

Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) heavyweight and former deputy prime minister Bülent Arınç on Feb. 13 called for postponement of elections in the aftermath of two major earthquakes that shook Turkey’s southeastern region on Feb. 6.

Arınç's remarks came after the debate on the election date after the quakes.

Parliamentary and general elections are normally scheduled to be held in June 2023, five years after the 2018 elections. However, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has expressed on many occasions that he will use his constitutional authority to call early elections for the date of May 14.

Speaking in the aftermath of quakes, Erdoğan said on Feb. 11 that “We will complete the construction and restoration works within a year (in quake-hit provinces).”

Erdoğan's remarks stirred the debate on the election date once again.

Journalist Fatih Altaylı on Feb. 13 claimed that the elections will be postponed for at least six months upon the instruction of the government.

“First, an election decision will be made by the Hiigh Election Board (YSK). Then, the YSK will declare that it has become virtually impossible to carry out the electoral process totally in four provinces and partially in six provinces, and will request the postponement of the elections,” Altaylı claimed in his column.

“Thus, the elections will be postponed for at least six months, possibly a year,” he added.

However, experts and politicians from the opposition deemed such a move “unconstitutional.”

They said only war can be a reason to postpone the election according to the 78th Article of the Constitution.

Jailed former Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş said on Feb. 13 in a series of tweet that “According to some reportings, while everyone was focused on the disaster, a group of lawyers was instructed to work to postpone the elections. Once again, they are preparing to ignore the Constitution.”

“According to Article 78 of the Constitution, elections can only be postponed by the Parliament and by an officially declared state of war decision. There is no exception to this. To ignore this would clearly be a political coup,” he said, adding that the public will not allow such a decision.  

“Earthquake is a disaster, not a 'grace of God' for transition to dictatorship,” he added.

Opposition Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) spokesperson İdris Şahin said “Neither the YSK can postpone the election, nor can the President. When there is the Constitution, the will of the YSK or any other body has no effect. Our Constitution is above both the President and the YSK.”

“Elections are held whenever the Constitution and the election law indicates,” he added.

'Constitutions are not sacred texts'

On top of this, AKP heavyweight Bülent Arınç on Feb. 13 said that “Elections must be postponed immediately. It's not a choice, it's a necessity.”

“Our citizens are currently fighting for their lives. While this is the situation, we see that some politicians and journalists are discussing whether the election will be held in May or June. Fear God, there are still bodies under the rubble,” Arınç said in a statement he released on Twitter.

Responding to the “unconstitutionality” criticisms, Arınç said “constitutions are not sacred texts.”

“For those who say that it is possible to postpone the elections only because of the war, citing Article 78 of the Constitution, one answer will be sufficient: Yes, there is this provision. However, constitutions are not sacred texts, they are legal texts. The legislature can at any time repeal, amend and replace the article of the constitution” he stated.

Arınç’s statement stirred a huge reaction among opposition politicians as they deemed his remarks a call for a "self-coup" or a "civilian coup."

Opposition Future Party spokesperson Serkan Özcan said that “Yes, we are living through one of the most painful periods in our history. Any attempt to fuel the debate and exacerbate our pain would be a historical mistake. Despite the clear constitutional provision, every step taken in the opposite direction will be considered as a self-coup in our eyes and by our nation.”

“We need to get rid of this mentality that makes election calculations even before the rescue work is finished!” main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Ali Mahir Başarır said.

As the death toll from devastating earthquakes rose to 31,643, 158,165 people have been evacuated to other provinces.

There is a growing criticism to the Turkish government for not preparing the country for earthquakes despite being in power for over 20 years.