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Turkey's Erdogan declares elections will be held early, under state of emergency

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan says that presidential and parliamentary elections will be brought forward to June 24, more than a year earlier than planned, saying the country urgently needs to make the switch to an executive presidency.

Vote will pave the way for extended presidential powers, as opposition cries foul

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announces early presidential and parliamentary elections at the Presidential Palace in Ankara on Wednesday. (Associated Press)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that presidential and parliamentary elections will be brought forward to June 24, more than a year earlier than planned, saying the country urgently needed to make the switch to an executive presidency.

Bringing the elections forward means that they will take place under a state of emergency that has been in place since a July 2016 attempted coup and was extended by parliament on Wednesday for another three months.

In 15 years of rule as prime minister and later president, Erdogan has transformed a poor country at the eastern edge of Europe into a major emerging market. Yet Turkey's rapid economic growth has also come with increased authoritarianism, as Erdogan has accelerated a crackdown on dissent since the failed coup.

Erdogan and his ministers had previously dismissed the prospect of early polls. Last year, he narrowly won a referendum to change the constitution and create an executive presidency, which will come into effect with the next presidential vote.

He said Turkey's military operations in neighbouring Syria "and the developments in our region of historic importance, have made it mandatory to remove the election issue from our agenda."

In a speech broadcast live on television, he said it was also "urgent to switch to the new executive system in order to take steps for our country's future in a stronger way ... We came to the agreement that we should approach this early election positively."

He said he made the decision after speaking to the head of the nationalist MHP party, Devlet Bahceli, who a day earlier had floated the prospect of an early election. The elections had been slated for November 2019.

Bahceli's small MHP party is expected to form an alliance with Erdogan's ruling AK Party in the parliamentary election.

'Emergency rule'

The main opposition CHP party called for an immediate end to the emergency, which allows Erdogan 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 spokesperson Bulent Tezcan said. "The country needs to be 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 firings 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.

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.

The European Union, which Turkey seeks to join, says Turkey is backsliding on bringing its laws into line with EU standards and has called for the country to lift its state of emergency.

Last month, a UN report concluded that Turkey's state of emergency had led to human rights violations, including arbitrary detentions and dismissals, torture and ill-treatment.

With files from The Associated Press

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