On 7 February, President Erdogan declared an emergency for a period of three months in Adana, Hatay, Osmaniye, Kahramanmaraş, Gaziantep, Kilis, Şanlıurfa, Adıyaman, Malatya, and Diyarbakır — the 10 worst affected provinces: which are scheduled to have Presidential and general elections to elect 600 members to the Grand National Assembly (Parliament) of Turkey soon. The Presidential elections in these provinces were scheduled to take place on 18 June 2023 but are likely to be rescheduled to 14 May 2023.
“I am grateful to God that we will be walking side by side with you, our first-time voting youth, in the elections that will be held on May 14,” Erdogan is reported to have said. Erdogan added that he would use his authority as president to start the electoral calendar on March 10, which will trigger a 60-day-processing period.
Though the Turkish parliament is yet to finally decide and announce the exact date of the polls, Erdogan himself and his party are dead against the election in June which coincides with the summer holiday season when people are traveling. Meanwhile, the 2023 earthquake in Turkey seems to have given a new lease of life to President Erdogan. The fragmented opposition, which though voted in parliament against the imposition of emergency — has not been able to field a common candidate to loosen Erdogan’s 20-year-old grip over the ballot box. In such a situation, a howsoever slim possibility that cannot be ruled out is that President Erdogan gets a walkover and is able to win – not because he deserves to but simply because the opposition is unable to field a common candidate and put up a joint effort to make him/her win the elections.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu retired civil servant and the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) however maintains that the Turkish constitution does not provide for postponement of elections except in case of war. Significantly at Kılıçdaroğlu’s behest six opposition party leaders (Good Party Chairman Meral Akşener, Future Party Chairman Ahmet Davutoğlu, DEVA Party Chairman Ali Babacan, Felicity Party Chairman Temel Karamollaoğlu) had met in Ankara to forge an electoral alliance called the “Six Table”.
“If there is a consensus on me, I am ready to run for the presidential elections,” Kılıçdaroğlu said openly expressing his will to run for the presidential elections.
Significantly Erdogan who has held the Presidential position since 2014 is seeking to be reelected for a further term of five years in the coming elections. According to analysts the timing of the emergency which would come to an end a week ahead of the elections in the affected areas –on May 14 might be a part of a larger plan brewing in the minds of Erdogan and his supporters to prepone or postpone the elections for their own good.
In a statement to CNN International Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said, “We are mobilizing all our resources. We will build our new cities according to scientific criteria,” he said dropping a hint that the elections may be held on May 14 as speculated before the earthquake. “The President cannot take this decision on his own. Parliament has to make a decision. But at the end of the day, the Supreme Election Board will decide whether there will be elections in the 10 affected cities”, he said.
“More than 2 million people have left the region. There are technical issues like how to vote where they are going. But the trend is for it to be done in May, on time, unless there is a political agreement to the contrary in the coming days.”
When asked to comment about the state of emergency being imposed on the 10 provinces, the Presidential Spokesperson clarified that this is being done to ensure that rescue and recovery work is ‘carried out quickly’. This was corroborated by Erdogan himself who said in televised remarks, “We have decided to declare a state of emergency to ensure that our [rescue and recovery] work can be carried out quickly.”
Meanwhile, Erdogan’s PR managers are using this opportunity to whitewash his image and justify that natural disasters are not easy to manage.
Experts however believe that as per the Turkish constitution, Erdogan who was first elected president in 2003 cannot change the date of the elections. Hence a vote in May is out of the question but it could take place in June. But even Erdogan cannot postpone the election beyond June without changing the constitution, and for that, he would need a two-thirds majority in parliament. That requires 400 votes. Erdogan and his parliamentary allies have only 333, meaning that he would need the opposition to back a longer delay.
Erdogan hit back at mounting at the mounting criticism and said, “This is a time for unity, solidarity. In a period like this, I cannot stomach people conducting negative campaigns for political interest.” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey’s main opposition party rebutted this by saying, “If there is one person responsible for this, it is Erdogan.”