Erdogan calls early elections under state of emergency, new purges underway

A handout photo made available by the Turkish Presidential Press Office shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrives to speak during a press conference at at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, 18 April 2018. [Handout photo/EPA/EFE]

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday (18 April) called snap elections for 24 June, saying economic challenges and the war in Syria meant Turkey must switch quickly to the powerful executive presidency that goes into effect after the vote.

The presidential and parliamentary elections will take place under a state of emergency that has been in place since an attempted coup in July 2016.

Turkey introduced a state of emergency five days after the 15 July 2016 attempted overthrow of Erdoğan. The state of emergency was renewed for the seventh time on Wednesday after parliament approved a three-month extension.

The European Commission on Tuesday urged Turkey to “lift the state of emergency without delay” in its latest report on Ankara’s bid to join the EU.

“The broad scale and collective nature, and the disproportionality of measures… such as widespread dismissals, arrests, and detentions, continue to raise serious concerns,” the Commission wrote.

The top European Union official handling now-stalled talks on Turkey’s joining the EU said Tuesday that Ankara was moving rapidly away from the path of membership – Brussels’ bluntest criticism yet of what it sees as a Turkey’s shift towards authoritarianism.

Hahn: Turkey taking ‘huge strides’ away from EU

Turkey is moving rapidly away from the path of European Union membership, the top EU official in charge of negotiations said on Tuesday (17 April), as Brussels delivered its harshest criticism yet of what it sees as Ankara’s shift towards authoritarianism.

In 15 years of rule as prime minister and then president, Erdoğan has transformed a poor, sprawling country at the eastern edge of Europe into a major emerging market. But Turkey’s rapid growth has come been accompanied by increased authoritarianism, with a security crackdown since the failed coup leading to the arrest of tens of thousands.

Last year, Erdoğan narrowly won a referendum to change the constitution and create the executive presidency. The changes take effect with the next presidential vote. The referendum was also held under the state of emergency.

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Turkey is heading to a referendum on granting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan new powers as early as next spring, ratcheting up tensions amid a crackdown on dissent and pro-Kurdish politicians, analysts say.

The government had repeatedly denied reports it would bring forward the elections, which were not due until November 2019, but Erdoğan said Turkey should leave political uncertainty behind.

Citing its military operations in neighboring Syria and the need to make important decisions on investments and an economy unlikely to maintain last year’s sharp growth, he said it was necessary “to remove the election issue from our agenda”.

Turkey must “switch to the new executive system in order to take steps for our country’s future in a stronger way,” he said in an address from the presidential palace in Ankara, flanked by rows of Turkish flags and broadcast live on television.

“By calling snap elections for June, Erdoğan is signaling that he believes his support, at least for the near future, has peaked. He may well be worried that if Turkey’s economic problems continue to worsen it will take a toll on his support,” said Nicholas Danforth, a senior policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Centre in Washington.

The announcement was made after Erdoğan held talks with the head of the nationalist MHP party, Devlet Bahceli, who a day earlier had floated the prospect of an early election. Bahceli’s small MHP party is expected to form an alliance with Erdoğan’s AK Party in the parliamentary election.

Three hours after Erdoğan’s declaration, the High Electoral Board said it had completed all preparations for early elections and was waiting for approval from parliament, where the AKP has a majority.

CHP warnings

The main opposition CHP party called for an immediate end to the emergency, which allows Erdoğan and the government to bypass parliament in passing new laws and allows them to suspend rights and freedoms.

“There cannot be an election under emergency rule,” CHP spokesman Bulent Tezcan said. “The country needs to brought out of the emergency rule regime starting today.”

The United Nations last month called for an end to the emergency and accused Ankara of mass arrests, arbitrary sacking and other abuses. Some 160,000 people have been detained and a similar number of civil servants dismissed since the failed putsch, it said.

Media outlets have been shut down and scores of journalists have also been jailed.

Turkey’s parliament last month passed a law revamping electoral regulations that the opposition has said could open the door to fraud and jeopardize the fairness of voting. The law grants the High Electoral Board the authority to merge electoral districts and move ballot boxes to other districts.

3,000 more military to be sacked over Gülen links

Turkish authorities will soon dismiss nearly 3,000 military personnel over links to the movement Ankara blames for the 2016 failed coup, a government minister said on Wednesday.

Turkish Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli said officials “discovered a nearly three-thousand strong structure” in the armed forces, state news agency Anadolu reported.

“In the coming days they will be dismissed by emergency decree. We have sent (the paperwork) to the prime ministry,” Canikli said in parliament.

Under the state of emergency the government has used decrees to suspend or sack over 140,000 public sector employees including teachers and soldiers over alleged links to US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen or Kurdish militants.

So far, 8,568 Turkish armed forces personnel have been sacked in a major purge of the military. This includes 150 generals, over half its pre-coup contingent of top ranking officers.

Turkey claims Gülen ordered the coup but he denies the accusations.

Canikli defended the state of emergency saying it had “only affected terror organisations, terrorists and their supporters”, Anadolu quoted him as saying.

“No one has been impacted. And it will continue to have no effect on anyone else.”

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