General elections appear to be on the agenda in 2023. That is what statements from President Erdoğan and his alliance partner, the MHP leader Bahçeli, suggest. Yet, the prospect of snap elections also looms. Many politicians, economists and journalists claim snap elections will be held in 2020. While snap elections may not seem logical, logics don’t apply to Turkish politics.
Why would Erdoğan opt for an election in 2020? Especially since his party is losing support in the polls and former AKP policymakers Ali Babacan and Ahmet Davutoğlu make moves to found new parties.
Why would Erdoğan risk calling for elections, when opposition forces won major cities in the last local elections?
And would this make sense as Turkey’s economy is shrinking, unemployment is reaching a record high (14%), the official inflation rate is 11% (independent studies point to a rate of 16%), the budget for 2020 implies heavier taxes for ordinary citizens and AKP-friendly conglomerates boast a net worth of 18.9 billion Turkish lira?
That is not to mention the human rights violations that have become commonplace even after the state of emergency was ended. In short, calling for elections would appear like a risk for Erdoğan.
But risk-taking is part of Erdoğan’s strategy. For the past five years, Turks have been called at the ballot box every year, whether it be general elections, referendums or local elections. This year, residents of Istanbul had to vote twice, as Erdoğan refused to accept the result of local elections. No one actually believed he would cancel the Istanbul elections, but he did. As one could predict, such a move resulted in a major defeat.
President Erdoğan made clear he will not let oppositional mayors govern as they wish and will hinder them financially. Along with Bahçeli, he also vowed to take back Kurdish cities from “terrorists” and municipalities held by the pro-Kurdish HDP have been taken over by force. So far, trustees have been appointed in 28 HDP municipalities (including in the 3 cities of Diyarbakır, Van and Mardin), co-mayors have been jailed one after the one.
While the government is bold in undertaking such anti-democratic steps, it is clear that Turkey’s new presidential system is jammed. The only way for the AKP-MHP alliance and especially for Erdoğan to gain some legitimacy seems to plot another election and refresh confidence in his leadership across the world. Prior to the last local elections, Bahçeli himself said that a loss in major cities would cast a shadow on the presidential system.
Respectable economists such as Ümit Akçay and Ali Rıza Güngen, who have examined the government’s “New Economy Program” and other economic trends, contend a snap election might be on the way. (Here is a wonderful article on authoritarianism and crisis management by A.R.Güngen)
Pro-Kurdish HDP held a conference on the economic crisis last weekend. Alp Altınörs, a member of the HDP Economy Commission, told me the government spending is as much as it did before the local elections. The credit tap has been opened. “These are economic signs that point to an early election”, he said. Famous journalists like Kadri Gürsel and Murat Sabuncu have also raised the likelihood of an early election.
In the meantime, President Erdoğan tries to deter Babacan and Davutoğlu from establishing new parties. If these two new center-right parties can be formed by the end of the year, they might play a critical role to persuade “undecided voters”, that could reach up to 30%. Erdoğan foresees it might be best to crush them before such parties gain ground. One wonders what else he can do in that regard, given he seized Davutoğlu’s Şehir University, accusing his former foe of being a swindler.
Finally, a poll conducted by Konda showed that during military operations, like the “Peace Spring” operation to Northern Syria, Erdoğan’s support went up by 1.5 points.
The latest agreement with Libya and the escalation of tensions in the Mediterranean Sea and Europe in general might be no more than an endeavour at bolstering his base at home.