Elections in Türkiye: Postponement or not?

Elections in Türkiye: Postponement or not?

By İsmet Özçelik *

President Erdoğan had made a statement before the earthquake. On March 10, he would announce his decision on candidacy. He also had declared the election date: May 14th. Then Türkiye suffered two major earthquakes. The death toll has now exceeded 40,000 and certainly will increase. Cities have almost entirely been destroyed. The question is: Can we hold proper elections under these circumstances?

The necessary constitutional amendment

The rubble of the earthquake has not yet been removed but the debate on the election has begun: Should it be postponed or held on time?

At the moment, the people’s concerns are not the elections.

Many jurists are referring to the related article in the constitution. According to that article, elections can be postponed only in the event of war. For this reason, legal experts consider a constitutional amendment necessary for postponement.

The government has not enough deputies in the parliament for such an amendment. It needs the support of the opposition. 400 votes are needed for a constitutional amendment. To get these is not very likely for now.

Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Table of Six’ attitude

CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and the Table of Six sparked the debate on the elections. Kılıçdaroğlu spoke harshly. He said, in short, “They are trying to postpone the elections. I declare to my people, loud and clear: the elections will be on time. Elections cannot be postponed except for state of war. The Constitution is very precise about it. Supreme Committee of Elections (YSK) cannot postpone the election due to a natural disaster. It has no authority to do that.”

‘One year’?

Kılıçdaroğlu then continued as follows: “Erdoğan says, ‘Give me one more year. This country gave you 20 years. Now it will not give you one year, not even one hour.” Kılıçdaroğlu’s statement is strange under the conditions of an earthquake affecting 13.5 million people.

I wondered about the ‘one year’ issue. I checked Erdoğan’s statements, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Then I asked CHP officials, but couldn’t get a clear explanation. When I looked into the issue a little more, the reason became clear. Erdoğan had said “We will rebuild the demolished houses within a year”. CHP officials interpreted this ‘one-year’ as a signal for postponing the elections by one year. Maybe this sounds funny to you, yet what we are hearing in the CHP behind the scenes is exactly that.

What is the position of People’s Alliance (AKP and MHP?)

The AKP and MHP remain silent for now. They do not want to enter the election debate.

They are worried not to create a perception of “running away from the battle”. However this does not mean that their inner circles are not discussing the issue.

The backstage in the AKP

The information I got from AKP circles is as follows:

The issue was addressed in the Central Executive Committee. Many talks were held as well.

Three tendencies came to the fore.

One group wants to wait for the shock of the earthquake to fade. They are worried about an election held on May 14th – which was the normal date of the elections before the earthquake. They find the date June 18 more favorable.

The second group says exactly the opposite. They are in the mood to “do it as soon as possible”. They are concerned that the decisions taken since the beginning of 2023 for the elections will lose their impact. They don’t want to forgo the date May 14 for the elections.

The third group is pessimistic. They say, “We must wait until the shock of the earthquake fades. Elections must be postponed. Otherwise we will be dealt a heavy blow.”

Overall tendency of AKP

A member of Central Executive Committee of AKP summarized the overall tendency to me as follows:

“It is difficult to postpone the election. It would be wrong to push the constitution. It would bring negative consequences for us. Those who intrigue against Türkiye took action on the very first morning of the earthquake. Postponing the elections would play into their hands. All options were discussed. Of course there are different tendencies within the party. The overall tendency is not to postpone the elections. June 18 seems to be the most favored date. Erdoğan will make the final decision. He is not afraid of holding the election on May 14.”

MHP behind the scene

MHP circles are similar to AKP’s. The different opinions within AKP are also present in MHP.

They point to the constitution. They emphasize the plots for civil disorder. They say: “There are lurkers. If the elections are postponed, they will immediately pull the trigger.” They are in the wait for Chairman Devlet Bahçeli’s final decision.

* Turkish columnist based in Ankara, writes in daily newspaper Aydınlık and has frequent TV news channel appearences.

This article first appeared in Aydınlık in Turkish, translation by UWI.

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September 2023