A debate over whether upcoming elections in Turkey will be held on time or postponed due to the 6 February twin earthquakes, has started to top Turkey’s political agenda, as the opposition voices concern that the government will use the disaster to its advantage.
According to the Turkish constitution voters in Turkey go to the polls on in June to elect their new president and members of parliament. However, before the earthquake, the government announced elections for 14 May, amongst conflicting views on whether the constitution allowed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to run for a third time if elections were held as normal in June.
With only 90 days left until May 14, many in Turkey think it is impossible to complete election preparations in the wake of the earthquake disaster that has affected 13,5 million people and has caused an approaching migration wave.
Three different scenarios are widely discussed in relation to the upcoming polls. Firstly, the elections could be held at the constitutionally set date, secondly, the government could try to postpone elections to a later date, or thirdly, presidential elections and parliamentary elections could be combined with the 2024 local elections.
Only exclusively at a time of war does the Turkish government have the authority to postpone elections. However, some in Turkey argue that President Erdoğan, citing security issues, could come up with a formula to bypass this constitutional restriction through a nationwide extension of the declared three-month state of emergency currently in place in provinces affected by the disaster.
At the moment, the government and the officials in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) appear to be trying to suppress debate on possible election scenarios with the rhetoric that it is not acceptable to discuss such matters in the midst of a disaster crisis.
Ali İhsan Yavuz, the deputy head of the AKP responsible for election campaigns, told Hürriyet on Tuesday that, as a party, they had been busy saving lives and had not even talked about elections since the earthquakes.
“We will feel ashamed to discuss it,” Yavuz said. “Talking about this in the midst a disaster is a futile exercise, an insult to those who lost their lives,” he added.
The politician’s comments came after Bülent Arınç, one of the founders of the AKP sidelined by Erdoğan, shared a long statement on Twitter on Monday night, that echoed these views.
In the post the politician criticised the opposition and journalists for discussing whether elections will be held on time.
“Fear from Allah, there are still dead bodies under rubbles. How can it be possible to talk about elections, when voters are gone,” he asked.
“In such a period will you organise election propaganda, ask for votes from our citizens who are suffering? Will you be a candidate, will you organise a rally? Will you have the face to do it? There are no voters, there are no ballot boxes. In addition, there is no legal and administrative bureaucracy left in the region. Will not people ask you, ‘people are fighting for their lives, what are you fighting for?” Arınç wrote, shaming the anxious opposition.
The veteran politician added that the country’s Supreme Election Board could change the number of lawmakers that represent the earthquake-hit provinces. He also said that constitutions “are not holy texts”, implying that it is possible to make constitutional amendments, such as that required to postpone the upcoming elections.
Arınç called on Erdoğan to meet opposition leaders to make such a constitutional amendment possible. He said his recommendation was that the upcoming polls were postponed and held together with local elections in 2024. Arınç’s second choice was to go to the polls in November this year. Otherwise, elections should be held at a date agreed by all political parties, the politician said.
When elections are on the agenda in Turkey, eyes turn to Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the National Movement Party (MHP), Erdoğan’s ally, who in the past made critical interventions in setting election dates. However, the politician did not mention upcoming polls during his speech to his party’s parliamentary group on Tuesday, six days after he was last seen in public after the disaster.
Meanwhile the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, was questioned by journalist Murat Yetkin on election date debates.
“The constitution is very clear. Elections can be postponed only at times of war. Upcoming elections cannot be postponed since there is no war. Nobody can establish their own legal norms by using excuses outside the constitution or the laws,” he said.
Kılıçdaroğlu also criticised Arınç. “There is no such thing in democracies. Such things do not happen even in tribal states,” he said in relation to the veteran politician’s proposition to bypass the constitution and postpone upcoming polls.