A nationalist alliance led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is amending laws to try and secure his victory in the next Turkish election, which will mark the coronation of the presidential office as the nation’s nexus of all political power.
“The changes are designed around MHP’s fear of not entering parliament and Erdogan’s desire to get elected in the first round” of presidential elections in 2019, Gulfem Saydan Sanver, a political communication strategist based in Istanbul, said in an email on Friday. “There’s an existential struggle here: for MHP, crossing the threshold is an existential issue. For Mr. Erdogan, being elected in the first round is vital.”
The ruling Justice and Development Party, headed by Erdogan, has drawn up a proposal enabling an alliance with the MHP. The changes allow MHP leader Devlet Bahceli to escape the humiliating possibility of falling below Turkey’s 10 percent electoral threshold because the alliance’s combined votes would determine whether individual parties will enter parliament.
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By offering such a carrot to what a struggling once-opposition figure, Erdogan can consolidate nearly half of the voters in this nation of 80 million people, many of them feeling betrayed by traditional allies in the West, and in favor of a strong leader to confront regional security threats. If the so-called “People’s Alliance” receives more than half the eligible votes, Erdogan becomes the country’s first formal executive president.
Regardless of who wins, the elections in Nov. 2019 will abolish the prime minister’s office and hand over executive power to the president. A greater majority held by the new political alliance in parliament would also ensure little trouble for Erdogan from a disempowered legislative branch.
AK Party lawmaker Mustafa Sentop said the amendments would be steps toward further democratization of Turkish politics. Opposition party CHP whip Ozgur Ozel said the government and MHP were bending electoral laws for their own political interests.
With or without a formal presidential system, Erdogan has been running the country as its sole political authority, using extraordinary powers granted him under emergency rule announced following a failed coup attempt almost two years ago. The president has also overseen a crackdown on political opponents and ordered the army into Syria to hit Kurdish militants there, at the expense of ties with the U.S. and the European Union.
“This is not an alliance of political interests, it is rather a national consensus,” said Adil Gur, owner of the pro-government polling firm A&G Arastirma. He said both Erdogan and Bahceli are enjoying a rise in support since the 2016 coup attempt, and amid a wave of nationalist sentiment gripping the nation as its soldiers fight Kurdish separatists in Syria.