Turkish government signals early local elections in November

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has signaled the bringing forward of local elections to November 2018 from March 2019 on the condition that opposition parties agree since the process requires a constitutional amendment, according to a report by the Hurriyet Daily News on Monday.

“I think holding local elections on the first or second Sunday of November, which corresponds to a date between Nov. 1 and 8, would be appropriate,” AKP Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair Mustafa Elitaş told the pro-government private Demirören News Agency on Monday. “But three parties have to agree on that,” he added, in reference to the need to amend the constitution in order to change election dates.

Elitaş’s statement followed comments from Agriculture Minister Ahmet Eşref Fakıbaba, who fueled discussions by saying that the first year after a local election is usually “wasted” on preparations and orientation, and it would be better to spend the last months of the year on such preparations. “As a former local politician, I think such a re-schedule would be the right thing to do,” Fakıbaba said in a televised interview on July 1.

The comments came amid reports that President Erdoğan said at a recent top AKP board meeting that the party “will not get out of the election atmosphere.” “We will prepare for the local elections while there is still an election atmosphere,” Erdoğan reportedly said during the meeting on Saturday.

Speculations have also been stirred as the AKP has opted to bring forward the date of its next ordinary congress to August 2018. Bringing local elections forward to an earlier date necessitates a constitutional change, as the constitution says local elections must be held every five years.

A constitutional amendment can only be possible with the votes of a majority in parliament, which corresponds to 400 votes out of 600 seats in parliament. If it receives more than 300 votes with a simple majority then the change has to be referred to a referendum.

As the Islamist AKP and ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) alliance has 343 seats in total, consent from opposition parties will be needed in order to bring forward local elections without a referendum. “The MHP has announced that there will be no early elections. But if other parties make other statements then the related authorities will make the necessary assessments,” said Elitaş.

However, AKP spokesperson Mahir Ünal has refuted the latest discussion on the possibility of rescheduling local elections on Tuesday, adding that the ruling party has no such agenda. “Our agenda does not include any early elections. Turkey has just come out of an election and it is looking forward,” Ünal said to a group of journalists in the parliament.

The ruling AKP’s priority is to implement the new executive presidential system in the following days, said Ünal, refuting the rumors. Ünal added that they do not find it right to begin discussions on early elections at a time when Turkey has just come out of an election period.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chair Seyit Torun said the party’s local organizations have already started preparations for local elections, with the party’s central administration instructing local organizations to be prepared for an earlier date. “The CHP is ready for an election with all of its organizations. We have made our preparations and we will continue to do so,” Torun said on Sunday.

CHP deputy Barış Yarkadaş also underlined that the AKP’s rescheduling of its congress is an indication of preparations for early elections, saying he believes the date will be Nov. 4. “The AKP wants to hold an election before the economic crisis gets worse and its effects on people become visible. The date in their minds is Nov. 4, 2018. All parties would approve that,” Yarkadaş wrote on his Twitter account on Sunday.

The İYİ Party also said the early election will be assessed in its party administration. “The party will decide if such an election is needed considering Turkey’s economic indications and the ongoing struggle against terror,” it stated.

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