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Presidential and Parliamentary elections will take place in Turkey on 24 June.

The next Presidential race was originally scheduled to be held in November 2019, but in a surprise move President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called early elections for both institutions.

These elections will be the first to be held under Turkey’s new constitutional arrangements, which were narrowly approved in a referendum in April 2017.

The changes will turn Turkey’s current Parliamentary system into a Presidential one. The President will head the executive branch of government, and will have powers to issue decrees with the force of law, prepare budgets, dissolve parliament, and appoint ministers and some top judges.

The election will take place under a state of emergency that has been imposed since July 2016, when a military coup was launched against President Erdoğan. The Government blamed the coup on followers of the exiled Turkish Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen. The state of emergency suspends some of the normal functions of the constitution and derogates from many provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights.

A recent report from the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, warns that the state of emergency has facilitated the deterioration of the human rights situation and the erosion of the rule of law in Turkey. It says:

  1. The sheer number, frequency and lack of connection of several [emergency] decrees to any national threat seem to…point to the use of emergency powers to stifle any form of criticism or dissent vis-à-vis the Government.[1]

Other key findings in the report include:

  • nearly 160,000 people have been arrested during the 18-month state of emergency; and 152,000 civil servants dismissed, many totally arbitrarily;
  • twenty-two emergency decrees were promulgated by the end of 2017, with many regulating matters unrelated to the state of emergency and used to limit various legitimate activities by civil society actors;
  • the use of torture and ill-treatment in custody, including severe beatings, threats of sexual assault and actual sexual assault, electric shocks and waterboarding by police, gendarmerie, military police and security forces;
  • 300 journalists have been arrested on the grounds that their publications contained “apologist sentiments regarding terrorism” or other “verbal act offences” or for “membership” in terrorist organisations;
  • over 100,000 websites were reportedly blocked in 2017, including a high number of pro-Kurdish websites and satellite TV channels.[2]

There are six candidates running for President. The four most significant ones are:

  • President Erdoğan, leader of the governing AK Party, who has been in power (first as Prime Minister and then as President) since 2002, and who remains Turkey’s most popular politician.
  • Muharrem Ince, former school principal and staunch nationalist, who has been an MP for the centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) since 2002.
  • Meral Akşener, leader of the new nationalist Iyi (Good) party she founded in October 2017, and former member of the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
  • Selahattin Demirtas, of the left-wing pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic party (HDP). An MP since 2007, Demirtas was imprisoned by the state in November 2016.

While polls indicate Mr Erdogan may struggle to achieve the more than 50% of the vote he requires for a first-round victory, he is expected to beat any candidate in the second round run-off. Analysts believe the state of emergency does not allow a level playing field for opposition candidates. The AKP government also recently announced a $6 billion incentives package, including cash payments to pensioners, which opponents have denounced as “election bribery.”[3]

Opposition candidates have complained of media blackouts of their campaigns, and questioned the integrity of the state body – the RTUK which is supposed enforce Turkey’s strict laws on fair media coverage during elections.[4]

In the Parliamentary elections, the four main opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Iyi (Good) Party, the Islamist Felicity Party and the small centre-right Democrat Party, have banded together to form a coalition. This move will allow them to get over the high threshold required of parties to enter the parliament – 10% of the vote. Erdogan’s AK Party have entered a coalition with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

[1]     United Nations- Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, ‘Turkey: UN report details extensive human rights violations during protracted state of emergency’, 20 March 2018

[2]     Ibid.

[3]     ‘Turkish opposition parties to sign four-way election alliance’, Middle East Eye, 2 May 2018.

[4]     ‘Erdogan Challengers Decry Media Blackout Before Election’, VOA News, 9 May 2018.

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