Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections will be held on May 14th, a month earlier than planned. If no candidate wins 50-plus per cent of the vote in the first round, a second election will be held on May 28th.
Mr Erdogan (68), who is seeking re-election, announced the change during a weekend youth conference in the city of Bursa. “I thank God that we are destined to share our path with you, our valued youth, who will vote for the first time in the elections,” said Mr Erdogan. He said “seasonal conditions” – exams, agricultural work and holidays – determined the change of date.
In office for 20 years as prime minister and president, Mr Erdogan faces his greatest electoral challenge due to devaluation of Turkey’s currency, soaring inflation, loss of revenue from Ukrainian and Russian tourists, and the presence of 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.
According to opinion polls conducted by his fundamentalist Justice and Development Party (AKP), there has been a rise in support for Mr Erdogan, who was given an approval rating of 53 per cent. The AKP received an approval rating 41 per cent. (Non-partisan polls give Mr Erdogan an approval rating of 50 per cent. The AKP received 41 per cent approval).
The pro-government Turkish newspaper Sabah reported that voters have been attracted by increases in civil service wages, pensions, and the minimum wage as well as early retirement for two million workers. The newspaper said bickering has undermined the opposition alliance led by the secular Republican Turkish Party (CHP).
It has not named a candidate since a court imposed a ban in December on Mr Erdogan’s main rival, popular Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu. He was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for allegedly insulting election council judges after they ordered a rerun of Istanbul’s 2019 mayoral election, which he had won. Mr Imamoglu, who is appealing the sentence, won the rerun by a landslide.
While he remains mayor and could contest the election pending appeals, he told the Financial Times: “They are taking an axe to democracy, literally denying people’s freedom to choose. [Voters] will respond to this deprivation at the ballot box in the 2023 elections, and this government will suffer a heavy defeat.” Were he to run and win, he could be barred from office if he loses appeals.
Turkey’s constitutional court is also set to bar the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party, the second most popular opposition grouping. It attracts the votes of most Kurds, who constitute 12-15 per cent of voters.
Turkey’s directorate of communications has not responded to a request by the The Irish Times for a comment on Mr Imamoglu’s ban.