Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1391, (26 April - 2 May 2018)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1391, (26 April - 2 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Snap elections, desperate measures

Turkey’s Erdogan has once again surprised observers with his open disregard for propriety in his push for absolute rule, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

On countless occasions, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed there would not be early elections. Apparently, he has engineered another of his trademark U-turns. Ever since last year’s controversial referendum on the constitution amendments package tailored to invest him as absolute ruler, he realised that the ground beneath him was turning to quicksand. Not that this was the first time the Anatolian strongman had to stare at the spectre of his fall. He had to scramble in order to reverse the disaster of the June 2016 general elections. Now he is preparing for a repeat scenario, certain it will crown him with long sought-after victory for his system of one-man rule.

Enter another endangered species. For some time, polls have shown that the ultra-right Nationalist People’s Party (MHP) would fall well below the 10 per cent electoral threshold needed to obtain a seat in parliament. Its leader, Devlet Bahceli, who precipitated an irremediable schism in his party when he entered into a pact with Erdogan before last year’s constitutional amendment referendum, was called into play to provide the screen for Erdogan’s about-face. About two weeks ago, Bahceli strutted into his parliamentary bloc meeting to issue the call for early elections by no later than 26 August. It was greeted by resounding applause.

There followed a tweet by the deputy prime minister and a statement by the presidential spokesman to the effect that the government would “study” the proposal and “assess it in light of what is best for national interests”. If that section of the performance was meant to give the impression that the palace was taken by surprise by the MHP leader’s announcement, no one held their breath for the results of the meeting between Erdogan and Bahceli on 18 April. But what did come as a surprise was the date for early elections: not 26 August, as Bahceli had suggested, but 24 June.

Somebody is in a desperate rush. Even such a loyal pro-Erdogan fan as former presidential adviser and current Yeni Safak editor-in-chief could not help but to wonder how presidential and legislative elections could be held so quickly, especially at a time when the country was in economic straits. Opposition parties understood the purpose, however. It was to catch them off guard and force them to race in order to catch up. This is why they have dubbed the regime’s latest gambit as the “raid elections”, alluding to the police raids against the offices and homes of opposition newspapers, journalists and politicians in the course of the systematic purges against all voices critical of Erdogan.

Evidently, regime circles felt that the element of surprise was not sufficient, in itself, to guarantee an electoral victory. According to recent leaks, some 10 billion Turkish Lira (about $2.5 billion) has been earmarked for electoral incentives to secure the support of needier sectors of society and deafen their ears to the “evil” opposition.

In this regard, few have remarked on the significance of the timing of Aydin Dogan’s announcement, 22 March, of the sale of the Dogan Media Group to the Demiroren Group owned by Erdogan Demiroren, a business magnate who is a close ally of President Erdogan. Dogan Media Group had owned some of the most influential media outlets, such as Hurriyet, Posta and Radikal newspapers, Kanal D and CNN Turk television channels and the Dogan News Agency. Demiroren already acquired the Vatan and Milliyet newspapers from the Dogan Group before this. With this purchase — a steal at around $1 billion — Erdogan has extended his control over 95 per cent of the country’s most influential media, which will now be mobilised against opposition parties and ensure that no voice in Turkey is heard above his own.

To smooth the way for this important acquisition, the AKP-government secured a loan of $700 million for Demiroren from the state-owned Ziraat (Agricultural) Bank. The bank, itself, reportedly had to borrow $400 million from 40 banks in 22 other countries in order to make the loan possible. That the Demiroren Group would have 10 years to pay back the loan, and that payment would not have to begin before two years, also stirred no small degree of controversy.

In addition to the foregoing, recent amendments to the Elections and Political Parties Law have put paid to the constitutionally-stipulated principle of equal opportunity. Equitable representation in polling stations has fallen by the wayside. They will be supervised by regime-friendly officials while public servants who know on which side their bread is buttered will man the stations. Police can be called into polling stations on the slightest pretext in order to intimidate voters. And, of course, unsealed and unstamped ballots now can have the ultimate say in the polls, the precedent having been set during the flagrantly rigged 16 April referendum last year.

In spite of this, Erdogan’s road to electoral victory in June will not be paved with roses. The Hur Dava Party (Free Cause Party, abbreviated as Huda-Par), a Kurdish Sunni Islamic party, has long been an Erdogan ally and supported the constitutional amendment bill last year. It had also announced that it was prepared to join the ruling party’s electoral alliance with the ultranationalist MHP. Recently, however, it reversed its position following the Turkish invasion of Afrin in January, declaring that “it cannot be said that [this operation] has not caused any kind of disgruntlement among the Kurds.”

More importantly, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), in a show of solidarity among opposition parties, gave the go-ahead, on Sunday, for 15 of its parliamentary members to switch parties to the recently formed IYI (“Good”) Party. With this, the IYI has fulfilled a chief condition for fielding its leader and founder, Merel Aksener, as a candidate in the forthcoming presidential elections. Aksener has been tipped a person who could pose a serious challenge to Erdogan.

There are dozens of other indications of back bets against Erdogan’s chances of success in attaining his ends. These ambitions were expressed by the head of the Sonar polling company after the recent amendments to the Turkish electoral law. The person who obtains 51 per cent of the votes will be an absolute ruler and own everything in the state, he said. But if Erdogan fails to win — and this could happen — then his dreams of president-for-life will collapse and Turkish democracy will have a chance to revive.


Half a billion ballots


TURKEY has a population of 85 million, of whom about 55 million are eligible to vote. Yet, the Supreme Electoral Council (SEC) placed an order for 500 million ballots to be printed. News of this elicited no end of humour across Turkish social networking platforms. It simultaneously fuelled suspicions of designs to systematically rig the forthcoming legislative and presidential elections. A cloud of suspicion has hung over the SEC’s impartiality and integrity at least since last year’s constitutional amendments referendum.

The SEC’s attempts to explain its printing commission were ingenuous and illogical. There were three election processes coming up, not one, its officials said. As tweeters and Facebook commentators quickly pointed out, even if there were three processes (municipal, legislative and presidential elections), necessitating three separate sets of ballots, this should require no more than 165 million for a population of 55 million. The SEC’s computational skills do not augur well for the body in charge of tallying up votes after elections.

What about the possibility of run-offs? Municipal and parliamentary elections use the proportional list system and run-offs are rare. But just in case, 250 million ballots would be more than enough and even cover the possibility of a run-off in the presidential race, which would be required if one of the candidates fails to win just over half of all eligible votes cast in the polls.

So, to what possible uses would 250 million extra ballots be put? Opposition circles and independent observers have some clear ideas on this matter.

add comment

  • follow us on