Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called new presidential and parliamentary elections for June 24, more than a year earlier than scheduled. The change announced Wednesday by Erdogan speeds the implementation of the constitutional changes approved last year, which will give the president broad new powers upon completion of the next national election.
Just hours after Erdogan's televised address Wednesday, Turkish lawmakers voted to extend the country's state of emergency through July — the seventh such extension since Ankara first implemented it after an attempted coup in July 2016.
Speaking at the presidential palace in Ankara before the parliamentary vote, Erdogan told the country that, with political uncertainty rampant in the region, there was simply no time to lose in scheduling new elections.
"Even though the president and government are working in unison, the diseases of the old system confront us at every step we take," Erdogan said, as translated by The Guardian. "Developments in Syria and elsewhere have made it urgent to switch to the new executive system in order to take steps for our country's future in a stronger way."
Turkey launched a military operation in northwest Syria earlier this year, aimed at dislodging Kurdish fighters from the region just across the Turkish border. Ankara views the People's Protection Units, or YPG, a Kurdish militia operating in that area, as a terrorist group allied with Kurdish separatists inside its own borders — and just last month, the Turkish military seized the Syrian city of Afrin from the Kurds.
As NPR's Peter Kenyon noted at the time, Erdogan has been riding a wave of domestic support for the operation, which "has analysts concluding that Erdogan's political support is on the rise."
At the same time, Erdogan said his decision to call the vote came not solely of his own accord, but partly at the suggestion of a political ally: Devlet Bahçeli, head of the nationalist MHP party, who proposed the idea Tuesday. Bahçeli said there's little reason to prolong the wait to implement those constitutional changes passed last year, which exchange the country's parliamentary form of government for one that concentrates most of the power with the president.
Erdogan added during his speech that his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has entered a political alliance with Bahçeli's party for the coming elections.
Other parties, however, have resisted the proposition — at least as long as the nearly 2-year-old state of emergency remains in place.
"There cannot be an election under emergency rule," said Bulent Tezcan, spokesman for the main opposition party, according to Reuters. "The country needs to brought out of the emergency rule regime starting today."
Elections held under the state of emergency are likely to hasten Erdogan's consolidation of power — and are unlikely to come as welcome news to the European Union, which Turkey has been seeking to join. Just one day earlier, the European Commission, the EU's executive body, expressed dismay at the recent political developments in Turkey.
"Most worryingly, in the crucial area of fundamental rights, Turkey has taken significant steps backwards," Johannes Hahn, the commissioner considering potential new members, said while introducing a new report on Turkey's EU bid Tuesday.
Conceding that the 2016 coup attempt "fundamentally changed the security situation" in Turkey, Hahn said Ankara's response has been disproportionate.
"Journalists, human rights activists, members of civil society are still being imprisoned," he added. "Since the introduction of the state of emergency, more than 150,000 people have been taken into custody, and many are still detained."
The lengthy report itself made the matter even more plain: "Turkey should lift the state of emergency without delay."
The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for its part, rejected the report's conclusions in a lengthy rebuttal, citing its continuing fight against multiple terrorist organizations.
"Unfortunately, the European Commission showed that it was once again unwilling to understand the difficulties of the period we are passing through," the ministry said in its statement. "Although we have explained these issues repeatedly supported by documentation, the Commission was unable to be objective and balanced."
Regardless of the EU's concerns about the state of emergency, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced Wednesday that they are proceeding without delay, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency.
"The process has officially started," he said.