Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, waves to supporters during a ceremony in Gelibolu area of the Dardanelles strait, Turkey. (Photographer: Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg)

How Erdogan Made Turkey's Next Election Like No Other: QuickTake

(Bloomberg) -- The most pivotal elections in modern Turkish history later this month will mark the coronation of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s presidential office as the nexus of political power. The June 24 vote capping Erdogan’s years-long drive to transform Turkey’s government comes during a state of emergency that’s brought mass purges of political opponents and a crackdown on dissent that’s eliminated many independent or opposition news sources and made the country the world’s biggest jailer of journalists. All of that lends extra importance to whether Erdogan wins another term and, if so, what sort of parliament he deals with.

1. What’s so special about these elections?

Last year, Erdogan narrowly won public approval for a package of constitutional amendments that will move Turkey from its parliamentary democracy into an executive presidential system. Under the amendments, the change takes effect at the next presidential vote. That was scheduled for November 2019, but Erdogan, on April 18, called early elections for parliament and the presidency. His ruling Justice and Development Party, or AK Party, had never before called early elections in the nearly 16 years it’s been in power.

2. What prompted the early elections?

Erdogan cited "developments of historical importance in our region as well as the cross-border operation we’re carrying out in Syria" -- the latter being a reference to Turkey’s military campaign against separatist Kurdish groups and Islamic State militants in neighboring Syria and Iraq. But many analysts had predicted that Turkey’s deteriorating economic outlook would prompt Erdogan to move up the date rather than risk seeking re-election in a downturn.

3. Will Erdogan again win the presidency?

There’s ample reason to think so. While some polls suggest he may struggle to win more than 50 percent to give him a first-round victory, he remains Turkey’s most popular politician and may dominate in a second-round run-off. As prime minister and now president, his leadership has been marked by economic advances that enabled his turn toward a more authoritarian style of leadership. For this vote, he is also backed by a nationalist opposition party, MHP, after the government changed laws to allow for election alliances. The snap elections gave the opposition only weeks to select candidates, decide on a strategy and get to full-steam campaigning. Fears about the fairness and credibility of the vote have been exacerbated by changes to the election laws. And that was even before the news that millions of Turks will be receiving checks from Erdogan’s government party a week before the election.

4. What’s the outlook for parliament?

A pro-Kurdish party that denied Erdogan a parliamentary majority in 2015 elections could do it again, if it passes the 10 percent threshold a party must reach in order to enter parliament. (Erdogan called for a re-run of the inconclusive 2015 vote and swept back into the office later that year.) Erdogan now says he wouldn’t allow a repeat of the 2015 parliamentary stalemate.

5. How have the electoral rules changed?

Erdogan has rewritten the rules to allow parties to band together. That’s a blessing for his nationalist ally, the MHP, which faced the humiliating possibility of falling below the 10 percent threshold. The amendments also allow authorities to appoint government officials to run polling stations or relocate them on security grounds, let law-enforcement officials monitor voting, and permit the counting of unverified, unstamped ballots -- an issue that clouded the 2017 referendum result. The government said those changes are necessary to secure the vote in Turkey’s southeast from the influence of Kurdish separatists.

6. What happens after the vote?

Turkey’s government will be swiftly transformed. The president will be anointed head of the executive branch with the power to issue decrees with the force of law, prepare the budget subject to parliament’s approval, dissolve parliament on the condition that new elections be held for the presidency and parliament simultaneously, and appoint high-level officials, including ministers and some top judges. While martial law would no longer exist, the president would be able to declare a similar state of emergency, giving authorities powers to restrict basic rights and freedoms.

7. What becomes of parliament?

The presidential system centers more authority in the executive branch by allowing rule by decree but an opposition-dominated parliament could override those edicts. The president is barred from issuing a decree on nearly 200 issues that are already covered by laws. The parliament could also pass new laws to kill a presidential decree or refuse to retract a law opposed by the president. Furthermore, while the president is tasked with drafting a budget, it’d be subject to parliament approval. The parliament will continue on as the legislative body, though with limited oversight over the newly empowered executive branch. It will have 600 members -- up from 550 currently -- and a supermajority of at least 360 votes would be required to open an investigation into the president, his deputies or ministers. (In the event of a probe, the president wouldn’t be allowed to call for elections.) With 400 votes, the parliament could refer a case against the president to the country’s top court. The parliament could shorten, extend or lift a state of emergency declared by the president. With a supermajority, it could call early parliamentary and presidential elections.

8. How long could the president serve?

Two consecutive five-year terms, but a loophole allows a third term if parliament calls snap elections sometime during the second term. Should that happen, Erdogan, who led Turkey as prime minister from 2003 until his election as president in 2014, could continue to dominate the nation’s politics beyond 2028.

9. How are financial markets taking all this?

The currency and Turkish markets rallied after Erdogan ordered the early elections, as investors welcomed a shortened period of political uncertainty from 18 months to just two. The exuberance was short-lived, however, amid concerns about an overheating economy, Turkey’s vulnerability to higher global interest rates, and the quality of economic policy under an executive presidency with few checks and balances.

The Reference Shelf

  • A poll commissioned by Bloomberg showed a competitive race.
  • Erdogan fatigue is a factor in eastern Turkey.
  • A QuickTake overview of Turkey’s political, religious and geographical divides.
  • A Bloomberg article explored Erdogan’s popularity and a Businessweek piece looked at the cost of his purge.
  • Erdogan’s party is sending cash to 12 million Turks before the election.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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