By Tuvan Gumrukcu and David Dolan
ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday called a snap presidential and parliamentary election on June 24, more than a year earlier than planned, saying the country urgently needed to make the switch to an executive presidency.
Bringing the elections forward means that they will take place under a state of emergency that has been in place since a July 2016 attempted coup and was extended by parliament on Wednesday for another three months.
In 15 years of rule as prime minister and later president, Erdogan has transformed a poor country at the eastern edge of Europe into a major emerging market. Yet Turkey’s rapid economic growth has also come with increased authoritarianism, as Erdogan has accelerated a crackdown on dissent since the failed coup.
Erdogan and his ministers had previously dismissed the prospect of early polls. Last year he narrowly won a referendum to change the constitution and create an executive presidency, which will come into effect with the next presidential vote.
He said Turkey’s military operations in neighboring Syria “and the developments in our region of historic importance, have made it mandatory to remove the election issue from our agenda”.
In a speech broadcast live on television he said it was also “urgent to switch to the new executive system in order to take steps for our country’s future in a stronger way…We came to the agreement that we should approach this early election positively.”
He said he made the decision after speaking to the head of the nationalist MHP party, Devlet Bahceli, who a day earlier had floated the prospect of an early election. The elections had been slated for November 2019.
Bahceli’s small MHP party is expected to form an alliance with Erdogan’s AK Party in the parliamentary election.
STATE OF EMERGENCY
The main opposition CHP party called for an immediate end to the emergency, which allows Erdogan and the government to bypass parliament in passing new laws and allows them to suspend rights and freedoms.
“There cannot be an election under emergency rule,” CHP spokesman Bulent Tezcan said. “The country needs to brought out of the emergency rule regime starting today.”
The United Nations last month called for an end to the emergency and accused Ankara of mass arrests, arbitrary sacking and other abuses. Some 160,000 people have been detained and a similar number of civil servants dismissed since the failed putsch, it said.
Media outlets have been shut down and scores of journalists have also been jailed.
Parliament last month passed a law revamping electoral regulations that the opposition has said could open the door to fraud and jeopardize the fairness of voting. The law grants the High Electoral Board the authority to merge electoral districts and move ballot boxes to other districts.
Turkey’s lira firmed against the dollar on Wednesday and was at 4.0189 at 1500 GMT. The yield on Turkey’s benchmark bond fell some 10 basis points and the main stock index jumped more than 2 percent.
Some investors had already been factoring in the prospect of early elections, citing the difficulty of the government keeping the economy going at its current breakneck pace – it expanded at 7.3 percent in the fourth quarter – until late next year.
The economy is likely to expand 4.1 percent this year, well short of the government’s target of 5.5 percent, a Reuters poll showed. Such a slowdown could hurt Erdogan, who has built much of his reputation on his stewardship of the economy, above all his record of delivering roads, hospitals and public services to millions of pious poor and middle-class people.
Investor concerns about double-digit inflation and Erdogan’s pressure on the central bank to keep rates down have sent the lira to a series of record lows. The currency’s sell-off may have figured in the call for early elections, some investors said.
“A continued depreciation of the currency would likely negatively impact voter behavior and may jeopardize Erdogan’s plans for victory,” said Paul Greer, a portfolio manager at Fidelity International in London.
“We read the early election announcement as a recognition from the government of a need for a tighter monetary and fiscal adjustment sooner rather than later.”
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, with additional reporting by Sujata Rao and Karin Strohecker in London; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Dominic Evans and Mark Heinrich)