Turkey Approves Crucial Election Law Seen Boosting Erdogan

(Bloomberg) -- Turkey’s parliament voted to approve sweeping changes to electoral laws that could help President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cement his grip on power.

The voting came at the end of a stormy, 20-hour debate in the parliament in Ankara where opposition parties warned that changes would undermine the integrity of the electoral process and increase the risk of vote fraud.

The overhaul comes just over 18 months before the scheduled date for one of the most pivotal votes in modern Turkey. When Turks go to the polls next November -- or earlier if early elections are called -- they’ll pick a new parliament and formally concentrate executive power in the office of the president.

“Erdogan appears to be planning to use the time available to try to boost his popular support rather than bring the elections forward and risk a defeat,” Wolfango Piccoli, co-founder of Teneo Intelligence in London, said in an emailed note on Tuesday. “The next presidential election will mark Turkey’s transition from a parliamentary system to one in which political power is concentrated in the presidency with almost no checks and balances.”

The amendments allow parties to form alliances that would help them enter parliament, relaxing the current rule that requires each to secure 10 percent of the national vote. The most likely beneficiary would be the nationalist MHP, which some analysts say has lost support since it started backing Erdogan’s ruling AKP after the failed coup attempt in 2016.

The changes ensure Erdogan stays at the pinnacle of power as Turkey begins a controversial transformation from decades of parliamentary democracy into an executive presidency. Erdogan has cracked down on political opponents since the botched coup, and has risked ties with the U.S. and Europe by launching an offensive against Kurdish militants inside Syria.

Under the amendments, authorities would also be able to appoint government officials to run ballot stations, relocate election stations on security grounds, let law-enforcement officials monitor voting, and permit the counting of unstamped ballot papers -- an issue that clouded the 2017 referendum on presidential rule. The government said the changes are necessary to secure the vote in Turkey’s southeast from the influence of Kurdish separatists.

Every vote could count next year. In the referendum on an empowered presidency, Erdogan won only narrowly, and most of his parliamentary landslides were secured with less than 50 percent backing. Under the new system, he’ll need a clear majority for a first-round victory.

Erdogan’s party has never called early elections during its 15 years in power, and officials insist there are no plans to go to the polls before November 2019.

Still, the AKP has surveyed opinion for any signs of shifting voting intentions. Nationalist fervor has gripped Turkey since the army launched an offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters, and the economy appears to have been put on a campaign footing.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.