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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Erdogan's election call catches opposition in disarray

While Turkey' ruling party has its campaign ready to go, its biggest rival has yet to decide on candidates

People walking under a huge picture of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul. The presidential and parliamentary elections will take place in June.  Erdem Sahin / EPA
People walking under a huge picture of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul. The presidential and parliamentary elections will take place in June. Erdem Sahin / EPA

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s announcement of elections in just over two months' time seems to have wrong-footed Turkey’s divided opposition.

Although dates in July or August had been suggested for the presidential and parliamentary elections, calling polls for June 24 shocked most observers.

The vote, which had originally been due in November next year, will take place in an conditions highly favourable to Mr Erdogan as he seeks a second presidential term that will give him executive powers approved in a referendum last year.

As well as mitigating the risk of a bleak economic outlook, early elections also leave the three main opposition parties with little time to mount effective campaigns.

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Snap elections

President Erdogan calls for snap election in June

Editorial: Erdogan's lust for power spurs call

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The elections will also be conducted under emergency law introduced after the 2016 coup attempt and extended by another three months for a seventh time on Wednesday, raising fears over interference at polling stations.

“The biggest problem is emergency rule, which I expect will be used to target the opposition campaigns,” said Hisyar Ozsoy, an MP for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). “The other problem is the protection of ballot boxes. If we can protect ballot boxes, it is impossible for Erdogan to win.”

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has held power since 2002, has formed an electoral deal with the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), seemingly solidifying the conservative and nationalist vote.

Indicating the AKP’s level of preparation, Mahir Unal, a party spokesman, revealed it already had its campaign songs, slogans, media strategy and social media plans in place. “The AK Party is a master in terms of campaigning,” he told a news conference in Ankara as he promised a “very powerful campaign”.

Perhaps the greatest threat to the AKP-MHP base comes from the Good Party, formed last year by MHP defectors under the leadership of Meral Aksener, a devout Muslim with nationalist credentials.

However, press reports said the election authority would bar the Good Party from taking part because it had not held its first national meeting within the time frame specified under electoral law. The party said Mrs Aksener would be able to stand as an independent in the presidential race.

In a sign of disarray among the opposition, the largest group, the centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP), is yet to name its presidential candidate. Leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said the party would decide “in the coming days”.

Meanwhile, two HDP deputies on Thursday became the latest to lose their parliamentary seats due to court convictions. The party, which is largely focused on Kurdish issues, has now seen 11 of its 59 MPs removed since 2015.

“We were expecting early elections but not this early,” Mr Ozsoy said. “It seems [the government] wants to capture the opposition when the opposition is not prepared. But this is about the future of a country — even a simple wedding ceremony is scheduled months ahead.”

While Mr Erdogan has secured an electoral alliance with the MHP, divisions could prevent the opposition uniting behind a single presidential candidate.

If the election goes to a run-off, “there will be a de facto consensus, but that’s not possible in the first round because there is no common political or ideological ground between the opposition,” Mr Ozsoy said.

Read more: Turkey's state of emergency extended despite 'suffering' caused by human-rights abuses

In a sign of the AKP’s confidence, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag predicted Mr Erdogan would win the first round with more than 50 per cent of the vote.

“There will be no need for run-off elections. The result of the elections is now certain after the reaction of the markets,” he told state-run Anadolu Agency, referring to the positive response of the financial markets to the election announcement.

He added: “When I look, I see the opposition seems to have been caught in the rain without an umbrella.”