News Analysis: Experts say early elections may give Erdogan head start in tight presidential race
ANKARA, March 10– In front of cameras, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed Friday a decree to launch snap elections, a preemptive move that may help the incumbent to capitalize on recent political trends in what was expected to be a close presidential race, said experts. “President Erdogan has a loyal base and some polls suggest that his popularity has…
by Burak Akinci
ANKARA, March 10 (Xinhua) — In front of cameras, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed Friday a decree to launch snap elections, a preemptive move that may help the incumbent to capitalize on recent political trends in what was expected to be a close presidential race, said experts.
Erdogan set the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections for May 14, a month earlier than scheduled. The president previously said he favored an early vote to avoid clashing with peak travel season in June when college graduates are having a holiday and Muslim pilgrims depart to Mecca.
However, for Erdogan, who faces criticism for ongoing economic turmoil in Türkiye and new doubts about the slow government response to the country’s deadliest earthquakes in early February, the upcoming race may be the toughest political test he ever has to face, said the experts.
“President Erdogan has a loyal base and some polls suggest that his popularity has not been dented by public criticism of poor earthquake response,” political analyst Serkan Demirtas, told Xinhua.
A public survey conducted by the Center for Social Impact Studies in late February indicated that the Erdogan-led coalition, People’s Alliance, maintains 44 percent support, a ghastly clear lead.
A poll conducted by Turkish pollster Areda Survey and covering 3,000 Turkish citizens between Feb. 23-27 showed that 49.8 percent of the respondents said they would vote for Erdogan.
Erdogan may further bet on winning more votes in a period when works are being done to fulfill his pledges to rebuild the post-quake country, with billions of dollars invested in reconstruction efforts, Demirtas noted.
Before the earthquakes, Erdogan had announced policies and measures in part to boost his popularity, including an increase in the minimum wage, early retirement, and cheaper housing loans to mitigate the fallout of runaway inflation, which is currently at around 55 percent, down from 85 percent in October.
Supported by a political base of cultural conservative and nationalist grassroots, Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have been in power since 2002, with himself first as prime minister and then as president in 2014.
At the height of Erdogan’s triumph, Türkiye witnessed an economic boom that saw the construction of new highways, hospitals, and infrastructure as well as an improvement in the living conditions of most of its citizens.
Since 2018 the economy slowed down and the national currency dipped to record lows against hard currencies, hitting households hard, and plunging the president and ruling coalition into fierce criticism.
In 2019, the AKP lost two significant elections, for the mayorships of Istanbul and Ankara, Türkiye’s biggest cities, and the opposition seeks a repeat of that performance in upcoming elections in May.
Now aged 69, the veteran politician may be facing a race closer than before. As a Turkish presidential candidate, he has to obtain 50 percent of votes in the first round of ballots to get elected outright, otherwise has to confront the main rival in a second round.
Following months of tumultuous internal debates, the politically diverse Nation Alliance last week managed to present a single candidate to rival Erdogan.
The six opposition parties picked Kemal Kilicdaroglu, 74, leader of the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) after he gained support from the other two popular contenders in the bloc.
The opposition’s joint manifesto pledges to return Türkiye from a presidential to a parliamentary system, fight corruption and enlarge civil liberties.
“It will be a tight race but now the opposition has an edge,” Sinan Ulgen, director of the Istanbul-based Centre for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies, said to Xinhua.
“The opposition has gained morale. They stay united. And is likely to stage a strong campaign in the next two months with the help of the mayors” of the two metropolises who enjoy strong popular support, Ulgen added. Enditem
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