Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament of his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Parliament in Ankara. Photo: Reuters/Umit Bektas
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament of his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Parliament in Ankara. Photo: Reuters/Umit Bektas

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took his political opponents by surprise when he announced snap parliamentary and presidential elections for June 24, almost 17 months earlier than scheduled.

One reason his decision surprised Turkish politicians and the public was that it ran counter to what he had said earlier on the issue, reportedly stating in 2009 that calling early elections was a ”sign of underdevelopment.”

So why has Erdogan reversed his opinion on the issue and called for polls earlier than expected?

Economic reasons

According to financial analysts, the Turkish economy is going from bad to worse, with the ongoing devaluation of the Turkish lira against the US dollar. Specifically, the lira has lost 50% of its value against the dollar over the past five years. At the same time, inflation – around to 11% according to local reports – goes unchecked despite the efforts of the government.

Moreover, investors and potential investors are concerned about the general instability in the country, and therefore are reluctant to invest. It is useful to bear in mind that the state of emergency in Turkey declared after the failed coup of 2016 continues indefinitely.

Perhaps – provided the uncertainty in the economy – the Turkish president and his advisers made an assessment based on the macroeconomic theory of cost and benefit analysis, or rational choice theory – also applicable in politics – and concluded that the cost would outweigh the benefits if the elections took place at their scheduled time.

Geopolitical considerations

The Turkish army invaded northern Syria with the strategic aim of dislodging Kurdish fighters from Afrin canton and blocking Kurdish plans to connect Afrin with the other Kurdish cantons in Syria. As Turkey suffers from “Sèvres Syndrome,” it fears that any successful effort for self-government in northern Syria by the Kurds might fuel secessionist dynamics in southeastern Turkey as well, where more than 12 million Kurds reside.

Turkish domestic public opinion reacted positively to the speed with which the army captured Afrin. However, as the operations in Syria and Iraq continue to drive up the death toll, uncertainty rises. Probably Erdogan wants to revive the public mandate in order to go along with his wider geopolitical plans in Syria and Iraq.

Any backlash in the tactical theater of war in Syria and Iraq – something that cannot be totally excluded in any war situation – may complicate Erdogan’s plans to be re-elected president with the enhanced powers that were introduced by the April 2017 referendum.

Opposition’s plans in Turkey

The first reports that the opposition in Turkey was fragmented and could not unite to counter Erdogan’s candidacy do not seem to be confirmed. There are many reports that there is intense political ferment among the opposition. Specifically, 15 lawmakers of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) joined the Iyi (Good) Party in a bid secure the latter’s participation in the upcoming early presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24.

Under Turkish electoral law, a party has to have at least 20 lawmakers in the parliament in order to be eligible to enter the election process. CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu instructed some members of his parliamentary caucus to resign from the party and joint Iyi – an unprecedented move in Turkey –  in order to present a coherent alternative to Erdogan’s candidacy.

The three parties cooperating are the center-left CHP, Iyi –  a nationalist party established last October by members of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Erdogan’s ally, and members of the CHP – and the Saadet Partisi (Felicity Party), which follows the doctrine of political Islam.

According to what is reported from Turkey, there is consultation between the three parties and former president Abdullah Gul in an effort to persuade him to become their candidate against Erdogan. It was announced that Iyi leader Meral Aksener had withdrawn her interest in being the common candidate of the opposition.

Is victory inevitable for AKP and MHP?

Probably Erdogan will win the presidential election, but it not inevitable that his Justice and Development Party (AKP) and his ally the MHP will manage to win the majority of the seats in the Turkish Parliament. Let’s recall that in the 2015 parliamentary elections the AKP lost its legislative majority because the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) managed to overcome the 10% threshold and finally enter parliament.

The scenario that Erdogan wins the presidential elections but does not command the electoral majority in parliament is something that he wants to avoid at all costs.

Dr Nicos Panayiotides is the head of the Geostrategic Observatory of the Middle East (GEOPAME), journalist and assistant professor of political studies at American College in Nicosia. He is also Research Associate at the Center for Oriental Studies (Panteion University). His academic interests focus on the Cyprus problem, Middle East politics and the Arab-Israeli conflict. He is author of several scientific publications in academic journals and four books on the Cyprus and Palestinian problems.