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Polls open in Turkey 2018 presidential-parliamentary elections, stakes high for Erdogan

Bassem Aly , Sunday 24 Jun 2018
Turkish Elections
Ballots for Turkey's presidential and parliamentary elections are pictured at a polling station in Istanbul, Turkey June 24, 2018 (Photo: Reuters)

On Sunday, roughly 60 million voters will choose not only a new president, but a new parliament; an unprecedented event in Turkey’s history.

This is a race between eight political parties, competing for 600 parliamentary seats, and six presidential candidates. If no presidential candidate secures 50 percent or more of the votes, a run-off round will be held on July 8.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Muharrem Ince from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) are widely seen as the key contenders in the presidential elections.

Their respective standings are even reflected in the numbers. A Bloomberg poll, published on June 13, showed that Erdogan will get 50.8 percent of the votes in return of 30.1 percent for Ince.

For the co-leader of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtas, the poll forecast that he will gain 10.5 percent of the votes, while 8 percent are expected to go to the ex-interior minister Meral Aksener of the new iYi (Good) Party and 0.4 percent for Islamist Felicity Party’s Temel Karamollaoglu.

The leftist candidate Dogu Perincek was not included in the poll.

Although the vote was expected by November 2019, Erdogan decided to call for an early poll, which is seen as stemming from last year’s constitutional referendum.

About 52 percent of the people voted “yes” for constitutional reforms that enormously increase the powers of the president and shift the political system from a parliamentary to a presidential one.

Raising the concerns of the opposition about the checks and balances in Turkish politics, the new constitution removes the post of the premier.

It also allows to president to decide on a state of emergency—which was extended by Erdogan and approved by the parliament for the seventh time in April— as well as directly to hire top government officials and cabinet ministers and weaken the judiciary, over which Erdogan accuses the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen to have an impact.

Thus, some argue that Erdogan wants to secure access to these benefits as soon as possible.

Erdogan, the former prime minister, and his AKP have won every election fought during the past 15 years: they haven’t been out of power since 2003.

But if the Islamist president won this time, it would be hard to compare the amount of power that he will get with that of any previous head of state, with the exception of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who established modern Turkey in 1923.

His hunger for further control over the state was seen after the 2016 failed coup, which he then described as a “gift from God”, for thousands of people working in different state institutions, politicians and journalists were arrested and detained. Most, if not all of them, were accused of being Gulen supporters.  

For parliament, the AKP created the so-called “People’s Alliance” with the nationalist  Movement Party (MHP) party, which will most probably be able to win the 10 percent threshold required for entering the parliament.

“If there is a strong parliament behind the president, then the president will have a much faster decision-making process in the current government system”, Erdogan said as quoted by the Turkish Anadolu agency.

This can also be partially considered as an attempt to reduce the chances of the anti-Erdogan, Kurdish HDP to deprive the AKP of having a parliamentary majority.

In 2015, the HDP won 13.12 percent (80 seats) in parliament, a situation that then meant that Erdogan could not pass his constitutional changes, winning votes from anti-Erdogan sects, though ideologically diverse people such as leftists, rightists, secularists and devout Muslims, in secular Western cities such as Izmir, Antalya and Bursa.

Five months later, Turkey held further parliamentary elections. This time, the AKP managed to restore their majority, though the HDP also passed the 10 percent threshold.

Writing for The Guadian from jail on Saturday, the HDP's Demirtas said that he is running for presidency as he beliefs that the “fight against the authoritarian regime operations by the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is the only way to restore peace and democracy.”

The AKP is also threatened by another four-party alliance that is comprised of the Kemalist CHP, iYi, the Islamist Saadet Party and the Democrat Party, a bloc that can increase the chances of its small parties to join the parliament, which eventually indicates fewer seats for the AKP.

On June 16, the CHP presidential candidate and parliamentarian, Ince, said he can “be a president who unites” Turks. "Veiled or unveiled woman, left or right, Turkish or Kurd, Alevi or Sunni, there is no difference," said the former physics teacher.

"Turkey wants to breathe, wants peace, wants serenity... Not an exhausted man, not a man who screams and shouts, (but) someone younger. Fresh blood."

Describing the elections as “the most difficult elections in Turkey’s past 20 years”, a Gezici poll indicated that the AKP-MHP alliance will only get 48.7 percent of the votes, with 43.1 percent going to the AKP. The MHP will get 6.2 percent.

The CHP-led alliance will receive 38.9 percent of the votes. For the HDP, 11.5 percent will go to its parliamentary candidates.

Therefore, there is little doubt about who will win the parliamentary and presidential elections: the uncertainty, rather, involves the number of votes that will be gained by each participating party in the electoral process. 


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