Following Military Success In Syria, Turkey's Erdogan Calls Early Elections to Consolidate His Grip on Power

Turkey will hold snap presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24, the government announced Wednesday, in a move many believe will help strongman president Recep Tayyip Erdogan consolidate power for another five years. 

The decision was reportedly made following a meeting between Erdogan and the Nationalist Movement Party's leader, Devlet Bahçeli, with whom the Turkish president's Justice and Development Party (AKP) has formed an alliance. 

The elections will be held a year earlier than scheduled, and some experts said the decision was made because Erdogan is worried his popularity would plummet before November 2019, when the next elections were originally scheduled. Turkey has never called snap elections before.

But Erdogan’s military incursions into Syria, where Turkey is battling Kurdish fighters, have boosted his popularity, and analysts said the president hopes to ride that wave of support to an election victory.  

“What the announcement appears to mean is that Erdogan and his party are somewhat desperate. Amid fresh memories of Turkey's capture of Afrin [in Syria] in March and fears of an ailing economy, it seems that Erdogan reasons that June presents the best opportunity to capitalize,” Ryan Gingeras, an expert on Turkish history at the Naval Postgraduate School, told Newsweek. “The fear is that if you wait [until] November 2019, you don't know what the economy will be like or what the international environment will be like. Now is as good as ever.”  

What’s more, the decision to hold elections early could disqualify one of Erdogan’s main political opponents from running against him, some experts said.

“The snap elections put the newly established IYI Party, a credible competitor on the center-right, in limbo, as it is likely that they could be legally excluded from the elections because they were established less than six months prior to the now scheduled election date,” Magdalena Kirchner, a fellow at the Istanbul Policy Center in Turkey, told Newsweek.

“In the past weeks the dramatic devaluation of the [Turkish currency] lira had caused major headlines—with an economic crisis looming large that would also hit the AKP’s base. Snap elections help Erdogan to regain the political momentum,” Kirchner added.

Erdogan has been steadily increasing his grip on power over the past several years. In July 2016, a failed military coup gave him an excuse to begin cracking down on dissidents, political opponents and critical journalists. Tens of thousands have been arrested, and over 100,000 people have been suspended from their jobs. Then, in 2017, Erdogan’s party pushed through a constitutional referendum to abolish the position of prime minister and give increased power to the president.

That success of the referendum ensured that Erdogan can legally run in two more election cycles, allowing the 64-year-old to remain in power for another decade if he wins both elections. The extra powers granted by the referendum will go into effect after the upcoming presidential election.