No one wants early elections in Turkey, but everyone is talking about them

Turkey’s next parliamentary polls are not due until 2023, and politicians of all stripes are against the idea of an early vote, but it must mean something that they are all talking about it. 

Turkey’s secular main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has said his party would not push for early elections, despite a series of stunning upsets in this year’s local polls. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s junior coalition partner, far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, has in past years made frequent calls for fresh ballots, but he too is against the idea. 

Bahçeli’s nationalist rivals in the opposition Good Party have likewise shrugged off talk of early elections, even as their leader, Meral Akşener, offered a loophole.

If former senior members of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), Ali Babacan and Ahmet Davutoğlu, go through with their plans to form new conservative political parties and this leads to a sufficiently large rift in the ruling party, Akşener said the president could then call snap elections. 

Akşener’s prediction comes from bitter experience. When she and others split from the MHP in 2017 over its alliance with the AKP, Bahçeli called for snap elections aimed at preventing her new party competing in the vote. Electoral laws make it more difficult for newly formed parties to run and Erdoğan could try the same tactic against the new parties, if they get off the ground and cause big enough splits in his own party.

Babacan and Davutoğlu are working hard to launch their new parties quickly. Babacan’s party could be up and running as early as September.

Erdoğan, meanwhile, has been trying to minimise talk of early elections, saying his party is focused on the scheduled date for the next round of polls in late 2023.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has refrained from discussing snap elections. Turkey has a notoriously high electoral threshold of 10 percent, which the HDP became the first pro-Kurdish political party to pass in the June 2015 national elections. A recent poll put the party’s support safely at the 10-11 percent mark, also placing support for Babacan and Davutoğlu’s notional parties at 8 percent and 4 percent respectively. 

While both new parties would likely take their largest number of votes from the ruling Islamists, Babacan’s proposed liberal, pro-Western party could also draw support from the MHP, the Good Party and the CHP, as well as from the Islamist opposition Felicity Party. 

Akşener has been positive toward the possible new parties and has talked of recruiting them to her electoral alliance with the CHP. Given she has also hinted her party could break its pact with the CHP, there is also the chance the Good Party could form a centre-right opposition alliance with the two new parties and the Felicity Party. 

That would raise the likelihood of a deal between the CHP and the HDP, which has been excluded from the present opposition alliance by the nationalist Good Party’s unwillingness to be linked with the Kurdish movement. There have been a number of hints at the possibility of a deal between the CHP and HDP, not least Kılıçdaroğlu’s creation of a working group to look at the Kurdish issue.

The CHP’s upcoming party congress could also strengthen the influence of its Istanbul provincial head, Canan Kaftancıoğlu, and deputy party chair, Oğuz Kaan Salıcı, whose faction favours moving closer to the Kurdish movement.

As the opposition seeks new ways to take on the AKP, Erdoğan has been at pains to prevent members of the ruling party defecting. The president implored members to stay united during the party’s 18th anniversary celebrations, but after shock defeats in this year’s local elections, the message gave the impression that Erdoğan is nervous.

The president had been expected to make sweeping changes in his cabinet, party organisation and in the upper echelons of the AKP. But these plans have been put off, and many believe this is out of fear that such changes could lead those ousted to defect.

Erdoğan could ramp up his rhetoric against those who have already left his party – he has already accused them of treachery – but the president’s belligerent tone could backfire, as it did in the local elections. 

The political heat looks set to rise following this week’s holiday break, and even though no party leader has called for snap elections, all appear to be preparing for the possibility.

 

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.