Turkey’s devastating earthquake has thrown into disarray plans for elections to be held by June, sparking frantic debate within President Tayyip Erdogan’s government and the opposition over a possible delay.
Even before the disaster – the deadliest in the country’s modern history – opinion polls suggested very tight presidential and parliamentary contests.
Here is the state of play and possible scenarios:
WHAT DID THE EARTHQUAKE CHANGE?
Last Monday’s disaster killed at least 41,000 people in southern Turkey, destroyed tens of thousands of buildings and triggered an exodus from the region, casting doubt over the feasibility of organising elections in the near term.
The logistical difficulties are considerable in a region that is home to some 13 million people, with hundreds of thousands left with destroyed or unsafe houses.
Last month Erdogan, seeking to extend his and his AK Party’s (AKP) rule into a third decade, had said the elections would be held in May, a month ahead of schedule.
But in recent days his allies indicated he would seek a delay.
“I don’t think it’s time to talk about elections,” an AKP official told Reuters, citing the state of emergency. “There must be some delay.”
The official, who declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak on the issue, said November seemed the most reasonable new timing, but that no decision had been taken.
Another official last week said the scale of the destruction presented “serious difficulties” for holding the votes on time.
CAN THE VOTE BE DELAYED?
Any attempt to delay elections faces a major constitutional hurdle: Article 78 says parliament may postpone elections for one year, but only in the case of war.
Former deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc, a founder of Erdogan’s AKP, called on Monday for a vote postponement and said constitutions are not “sacred texts”.
“Elections must be postponed immediately so that the state bureaucracy can focus on helping our citizens heal wounds. This is not a choice but a necessity,” Arinc said, in what some observers saw as a trial balloon to gauge public mood.
The issue was set to come up at a cabinet meeting chaired by Erdogan on Tuesday afternoon.
WHAT DOES THE OPPOSITION SAY?
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition CHP, dismissed a delay on grounds that the constitution is clear on the issue.
“No one can create a legal norm of their own by inventing justifications other than the constitution and laws. There is a constitution. If we say ‘Turkey is a state of law’, there cannot be (a delay),” he told Yetkin Report in an interview.
He said the priority was to set an election date and get the High Election Board to start preparations.
However, the opposition faces its own challenges. The main six-party alliance seeking to oust Erdogan has yet to announce a presidential candidate and there had been some disagreement within its ranks.
An official from the IYI Party, like the CHP an alliance member, said they would discuss the candidate issue in the coming weeks.
WHO WOULD BENEFIT FROM A DELAY?
Opinion polls before the quake suggested the vote would be Erdogan’s toughest electoral challenge yet with his popularity eroded by the soaring cost of living and a slump in the lira.
The quake brings further uncertainty.
The government faces criticism over the initial speed and organisation of the emergency response and Erdogan has said it was not as fast as desired and he declared a three-month state of emergency in the 10 affected provinces.
The AKP official expected the disaster to erode votes for the ruling alliance given the suffering, and the loss of life and property. “They will want to hold someone to account,” the official said.
The quake-hit region has traditionally backed Erdogan: he took 55% of the vote there in the 2018 presidential election, while his AKP and its partners won the same level of support in the parliamentary election.
Disasters have swayed votes in the past.
After a powerful 1999 earthquake that killed 17,000 people in northwest Turkey, criticism of the response was one factor behind a collapse in then-government’s popularity, which helped the AKP triumph in the 2002 vote.
WOULD ERDOGAN BE ABLE TO RUN?
There is also fierce debate between the government and opposition whether Erdogan can run again, having been president since 2014 and serving his second term.
Constitutional professor Ibrahim Kaboglu, spokesman of the CHP’s constitutional commission, said Erdogan would only be eligible to stand in the election if it was held before June.
The constitution sets a two-term limit for presidents, but they can seek another term if parliament calls an early election before the second term expires.
Were Erdogan to run later, the constitution would have to be changed, Kaboglu said.
“But such a constitutional change would just be for an individual. Discussing such a change would be problematic,” he said.